By Margot Trinder MAPS, National KidsMatter Coordinator, APS and Brenda Dobia MAPS, KidsMatter Resource Development Coordinator, APS
The APS is a key development partner in KidsMatter, the first national mental health promotion, prevention and early intervention (PPEI) initiative specifically developed for primary schools. KidsMatter has been developed in collaboration with the Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing, beyondblue: the national depression initiative, the APS and the Australian Principals Associations Professional Development Council, and supported by the Australian Rotary Health Research Fund.
KidsMatter involves the people who have a significant influence on children’s lives – parents, families, care-givers, teachers and community groups – in making a positive difference for children’s mental health during this important developmental period.
The KidsMatter initiative aims to:
a) improve the mental health and well-being of primary school students;
b) reduce mental health problems amongst students; and
c) achieve greater support for students at risk of or experiencing mental health problems.
To achieve these aims, KidsMatter promotes collaborative involvement across the health and education sectors. It provides a framework for mental health PPEI that is specifically oriented to primary schools, rather than presenting schools with a single defined program. Through the KidsMatter framework, schools are provided with the resources to implement a comprehensive approach to addressing students’ mental health tailored to the needs of each individual school’s particular students and community. In this way KidsMatter builds on the work schools are already doing to address the mental health of their students through National, State, Territory and sector based mental health initiatives and policies.
KidsMatter acknowledges the critical role that schools can play to enhance factors that promote children’s resilience, such as a sense of belonging and connection. It emphasises a sense of shared community responsibility for children’s wellbeing and promotes partnerships with parents and a range of community services/agencies to improve children’s mental health and family relationships. It recognises that teachers can and do make a significant difference in the lives of children and seeks to enhance the capacity of schools to recognise mental health risks in children and respond effectively.
KidsMatter uses a risk and protective framework and focuses on four areas where schools can strengthen the protective factors for students’ mental health and minimise the risk factors.
Firstly, schools can provide a positive school climate where the sense of belonging and connection can help to protect students from developing mental health difficulties. Schools can also teach students social and emotional skills to strengthen their mental health. Schools provide an access point for families, and are in a position to give parents and carers information and resources on parenting to positively affect their children’s mental health. Lastly, due to their close contact with students, teachers are ideally placed to identify any of their students showing early signs of mental health difficulties, and to assist them and their families to get the help they need.
The four areas where schools can help to strengthen their students’ mental health make up the core content of KidsMatter and comprise the four KidsMatter components. Dividing KidsMatter into the four components is a way of making the task of improving students’ mental health in schools more manageable. It also ensures that the efforts that schools put into this initiative are being focused most effectively across all the
contributing/necessary contexts in children’s lives and involve all the significant people impacting on children’s mental health.
The four components of KidsMatter are:
Implementing KidsMatter requires a planned and coordinated whole school approach. This involves the active commitment of school principals and the engagement of all staff in the implementation process. School psychologists have an important role to play through providing specific psychological and mental health expertise to promote schools’ awareness of children’s mental health concerns and to help build schools’ capacity to respond effectively. School psychologists and counsellors are encouraged to participate in the school Action Teams set up to facilitate KidsMatter implementation with the assistance of State and Territory-based Project Officers.
School Action Teams are assisted by the Project Officers in applying a systematic 7-step problem-solving model to plan and coordinate KidsMatter implementation. The 7-step model supports teachers’ central role in delivering the initiative and enables schools to systematically assess their strengths and needs in the four component areas. With the assistance of KidsMatter tools and resources, primary schools are supported to develop
their capacity for promoting children’s mental health and wellbeing and to respond effectively to mental health concerns affecting their students.
KidsMatter is being trialled in 101 schools across Australia with the view to making it available to all primary schools from 2009. During this trial phase, it is important that KidsMatter is extensively and rigorously evaluated to learn what worked, what did not, and how KidsMatter can be improved for schools in the future.
The schools participating in the trial were selected from applications submitted in July 2006. The selected schools represent a cross-section of public sector, Catholic and independent schools from across the States and Territories. Fifty-one of the selected schools were then involved in a twoday briefing in September 2006 and began implementation immediately. The remaining fifty pilot schools will attend an initial briefing in September 2007 and commence implementation following that.
A team based at Flinders University has been engaged to undertake evaluation of the KidsMatter trial. The evaluation will provide information about the implementation process and whether the initiative leads to improved mental health for students. The findings will inform the subsequent national roll-out of KidsMatter initiatives.
Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (2003). Safe and sound: An educational leaders' guide to evidence-based social and emotional learning (SEL) Programs. Retrieved June 29, 2006 from www.casel.org.