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Our History

In December 1988, Portland State University Research and Training Center on Family Support with the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR) co-hosted the Next Steps conference in Arlington, Virginia. This conference served the sole purpose of creating an agenda for children's mental health. The meeting was attended by 75 parents and 25 professionals, marking one of the first times in the family movement that families and professionals came together to discuss the needs of children and their families. 


At the end of the meeting, with work still to do, 18 family members and two professionals volunteered to continue the work. They gathered in February 1989 in the basement of Naomi and Gene Karp’s home. As a result, the decision was made to form a national parent-run organization that would speak on behalf of children with mental health needs and their families. These 20 individuals became the steering committee and interim board for what would become the National Federation of Families for Children’s Mental Health (NFFCMH).


In September of 1989, the Federation of Families for Children's Mental Health was incorporated in the State of Maryland. Bylaws were adopted and an application was completed for 501(c)3 tax status. Also, that year, the National Institutes of Mental Health allocated the first funding for five family run-organizations: HI, MN, MT, VA and WI. The National Federation of Families for Children’s Mental Health would come to represent family-run organizations across the country.

In 1992, NFFCMH received a grant from the Annie E. Casey Foundation to undertake a major role in their Urban Children's Mental Health Initiative. This grant enabled the move from an all-volunteer to a professionally staffed organization. The first board president, Barbara Huff, became the founding Executive Director, where she remained until 2004.


Since then, the National Federation of Families has grown to 115 state, local and partner affiliates. Below are some of our historic highlights and milestones:




  • 1989 - First annual conference, in Arlington, VA

  • 1992 - Passage of the Children’s Mental Health Initiative

  • 1992 - NFFCMH Missouri state affiliate launches Children’s Mental Health Awareness Week. Under NFFCMH’s leadership, national Children’s Mental Health Awareness Week is now celebrated annually during the first, full week of May.

  • 2000 - Surgeon General’s report on children’s mental health

  • 2003 - SAMSHA’s national advisory council appoints Barbara Huff as the first representative of family voice

  • 2004 - President George W. Bush’s New Freedom Commission on Mental Health highlights the goal that mental health services should be consumer and family-driven

  • 2011 - Certification Commission formed and a national certification for Parent Peer Support Providers launched

  • 2013 - CMS and SAMHSA jointly declare Medicaid reimbursement for parent peer support allowable

  • 2019 - NFFCMH 30th anniversary celebration

  • 2020 - SAMHSA’s first National Family Support Technical Assistance Center awarded to NFFCMH and launched

  • 2020 - Name changed from National Federation of Families for Children's Mental Health to National Federation of Families (NFF)

  • 2022 - Children's Mental Health Awareness Week became Acceptance Week

  • 2024 - NFF's 35th anniversary celebration

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