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Reflections Magazine : Reflections Issue 58 Autumn 2015
17 REFLECTIONS • GOWRIE AUSTRALIA • AUTUMN 2015 - ISSUE 58 As a community, we are becoming more aware of mental health issues and the challenges our children face with their thoughts, feelings and behaviours. A survey conducted in South Australia in 2005 reported significant mental health difficulties (including emotional, behavioural and social skill deficits) in 10% of preschool children aged 3 to 5. Poor mental health in early childhood may lead to a lifetime of potential challenges, including poor physical and mental health, learning difficulties, poor academic performance, unemployment and an inability to form healthy and secure relationships. Providing appropriate support reduces the likelihood of these negative outcomes. In some cases, this requires early childhood educators to collaborate with health professionals, or support agencies who specialise in mental health and wellbeing. When health professionals become involved It is normal for children and adults to experience a wide range of emotions, and learning how to manage feelings and cope in positive ways is an important part of child development. 'Mental health difficulties' is a term used to describe a range of challenges that children or adults may experience with their thoughts, feelings or behaviour. Mental health difficulties can occur in response to general life challenges and include stress, sadness, aggression or irritability. All people, including children, experience mental health difficulties at times. However, not all children experiencing mental health difficulties will need assessment and support by a health professional. Warning signs of more serious mental health difficulties in children can include significant and ongoing changes in behaviour or emotions,problems with attachment, and/or not reaching developmental milestones.In these cases,further assessment and support from a health professional is recommended. It is important to consult with the staff team and director/ leader if there is a concern about a child's mental health. This consultation can then help guide educators as to who is the most appropriate person to raise any concerns with parents/caregivers. It is important to remain sensitive and not to provide labels or a diagnosis -- the educator might need to have a conversation about what he/she is seeing, the reason for concern and then recommend a visit to the family's local GP. Types of health professionals There are a number of health professionals who can provide assessment and advice for children and families experiencing mental health difficulties.These include medical doctors, such as general practitioners (GPs), paediatricians and psychiatrists, as well as psychologists, social workers and other health and welfare professionals. Often the best place to start is with the family's local GP. GPs provide assessment and advice and can,if necessary, refer children on to a specialist for further assessment and management. How professionals help Firstly, health professionals can assess a child showing signs of mental health difficulties and provide a diagnosis where appropriate. Only health professionals can diagnose a mental illness or a neurodevelopmental disorder. A diagnosis is provided if a specific set of criteria is fulfilled and sometimes it takes time to establish a diagnosis, especially in young children. Regardless of whether or not a diagnosis is made, health professionals may develop a support plan to guide the child's wellbeing and development, and they may also work with educators and family members to implement the plan. Health professionals may speak with children about their experiences, thoughts and feelings (if appropriate), and work with them to develop problem solving skills and helpful ways of coping. Medication may also be prescribed for children experiencing mental health difficulties. The type of support recommended by professionals will depend on various factors relating to the individual child, the stage of development, the family, and the mental health difficulties being experienced. Working in partnership with health professionals The best outcomes for a child with mental health difficulties are achieved when all the adults in that child's life are working in partnership. By connecting and communicating with parents/carers educators can work to bring everyone together.This allows educators, families and health professionals to share information, implement support strategies consistently, and reflect together on a child's progress. Discussions may centre around strategies that were helpful and effective in supporting the child and family, considering strategies that did not work, and deciding on any changes that need to be made. Some practical tips for working in partnership with health professionals include putting together a list of the main agencies and professionals in the local area who provide assessment and support to children experiencing mental health difficulties. It may be helpful to pick up some brochures or print off some information about the agencies to share with families if they are interested. If requested and approved by the family, observations of a child's emotions or behaviour can be shared with a health professional during the assessment process. If a child has already been assessed by a health professional or support agency, the service may have access to a report or an existing support plan. Educators should become familiar with any documentation and if needed, discuss it with the service director, supervisor or coordinator. Lastly, once familiar with the support plan, educators can assist by implementing the recommended strategies consistently in the service, recording the outcomes and communicating the child's progress regularly to the family and other professionals as requested. More information More information about supporting children's mental health and wellbeing in early childhood education and care is available in the new resource: Connections: A resource for early childhood educators about children's wellbeing A free copy of 'Connections' has recently been distributed to long day care, family day care, preschool and out of school hours care services throughout Australia.'Connections' has been created by the Hunter Institute of Mental Health with funding from the Australian Government through the Department of Education. For more information about 'Connections' and the research behind it, or to access electronic copies go to: www.himh.org.au/connections Watch out for upcoming Professional Development Learning to support this resource through Professional Support Coordinators (PSC) and Gowrie NSW.
Reflections Issue 57 Summer 2014
Reflections Issue 59 Winter 2015