Leading experts and organisations from across Australia joined with local leaders in Newcastle today to discuss the mental health and wellbeing of children, young people and families.
Organisers hope the Risk and Resilience forum will spark a national conversation about how to work across sectors and jurisdictions to strengthen families and children, with a particular focus on how to support vulnerable children and young people.
The forum was hosted by the Hunter Institute of Mental Health in partnership with beyondblue, the Young and Well Cooperative Research Centre and the Centre of Research Excellence in Mental Health and Substance Use.
Dr Gavin Hazel, Child and Youth Program Manager at Hunter Institute of Mental Health, writes below of the need to “transform the ways in which we think about supporting vulnerable children and young people”.
Gavin Hazel writes:
We can all think of someone we know who has faced challenges, tough times or struggles in their life. Mental health difficulties touch us all either directly or indirectly. This is no less true for children and young people than it is for adults.
Recently two significant reports that have addressed the mental health and wellbeing of children, young people and families have been released – the National Review of Mental Health Programmes and Services and the second Australian Child and Adolescent Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing.
These reports have highlighted the need to do more, the need to work across sectors and the need to get in early to ensure happy and healthy children now as well as happy and healthy adults of the future.
Right now policy, research, clinical practice, and community all share in wanting to do well by children and young people. But we also know from the Australian Child and Adolescent Survey that 1 in 7 children and young people between 4-17 years old will experience a mental health problem this year, equating to 560,000 children and adolescents in Australia.
So the time to act is now.
We can strengthen our collective activity through building common agendas, engaging in activities that mutually reinforce our goals, continuous communication, and evaluating the impact of our combined efforts. To drive the kind of large-scale social change that benefits the wellbeing of children, youth and families, we need to be engaged across a range of issues.
We need to understand how to best strengthen families and children so they possess the necessary skills to achieve self-sufficient, healthy and secure lives. We must also transform the ways in which we think about supporting vulnerable children and young people.
In reflecting on the current state of reform, research, policy, and advocacy I see that there are (at least) 10 areas in child and youth mental health that we can be collectively participating in to support change:
1. Family and Youth engagement
Understanding how to generate meaningful participation and involvement of families and youth is at the forefront of debates about mental health and wellbeing. It has been argued that this is a necessary component in care and results in improved outcomes. Service design, peer support, walk-in clinics, technology are all being examined for how they can be developed collaboratively with families and young people.
2. Whole of Government/Community approaches to reform
There is a fundamental difference in how we think about mental health in general and child and youth mental health in particular. The focus is on how we do our work collectively and across portfolios, sectors and departments.
3. System transformation
Health, child and family service systems are trying to do things differently. There is a drive to transform service systems to ensure access to the right service that is effective, efficient, equitable and acceptable. Questions of evidence, accountability, linkages, and sustainability are all central to these transformations.
4. Pathways to care
Families, young people, and children want access to the “right” service, at the “right” time and they want an outcome from this service. Australia is an innovator in how to respond to the question of youth access both through service development and technological integration, but significant challenges remain in regards to paths to services, equity of access, reduction of stigma, and service gaps.
What happens when people move between systems of care? Given the age of onset for disorders and the chronic nature of some conditions, then transitions between services is a part of care. Beyond service systems there are many kinds of transitions that we also need to understand as children, youth and family move between educational settings, into the workplace, between care settings and through life stages.
6. Promotion and prevention
We need to continue to examine our shared understanding of promotion, prevention, early intervention, resilience and recovery. We will not be able to effectively respond to the needs of children and youth by relying on siloed service systems or one-on-one treatment after problems have occurred. We need to continue to develop and evaluate life span approaches to promotion and prevention that build skills, encourage help seeking and support care.
Technology offers us more than one way to bridge the gap between need and services. It is a rich field of clinical research, an emerging space for co-creation and co-delivery, reducing stigma and also a new domain of social interaction.
8. Awareness, capability, and competency
What are the professions involved in meeting the needs of families, children, and youth and what should they know? Whether you are a teacher, General Practitioner, social worker, police officer, nurse, coach, volunteer, clinician, or parent – what is the fundamental knowledge we should all have about children and youth? Building the awareness and capacity of all those involved in the lives of children can strengthen the impact of our programs and initiatives.
9. School mental health
Schools have a role to play in mental health promotion, skill building, early identification and linking with services to assist young people and families. When students have mental health issues they cannot learn effectively.
10. Brain, behaviour and development
The early years and adolescence are well-established critical windows of growth and development. Research and practice is demonstrating the significant and multiple roles of family, educators, carers and clinicians in supporting wellbeing and development.
No one sector alone is responsible or capable of responding to these issues and opportunities. Change must involve all stakeholders – families, children, youth, service providers across the sectors, researchers across the sectors, policy makers across the sectors, philanthropy, NGO, and business.
By drawing on the best in practice, science and policy we empower people, communities, organisations and government to enact sustainable and meaningful change. To do this we need to look for ways to bring people and knowledge together.
• The forum brought together people from government, health, mental health, community and social services, researchers, policy makers and community leaders to discuss these issues. In coming weeks you will be able to access a range of blogs, podcasts, video extracts and a summary report from the day here.