April 2006

Newsletter No. 10

Speaking Up About Mental Health Services Provision Report on the Office of Children Visiting Professor Dr Jack Shonkoff Child & Family Policy

-16-30 year old young people who have had or are having some experiences with mental health services.
-Any interested professionals….
-To discuss the important issues for young people that arise from being involved with mental health services.
-Interactive format for young people to openly discuss the issues – strengths and gaps of mental health services.
WHEN: 2nd Tuesday of month, 6-7pm Next meeting: Tues 9th May
WHERE: Albert Road Centre for Health, 2nd floor, 60 Albert Road, South Melbourne ph. 96947123 (Melissa Bryan)
RSVP: (Paul Tribe)
Paul Tribe

Report on the Office of Children – Early Planning Workshop on the Needs of Young Children of Recently Arrived High Needs Immigrant Families, including Refugees (and young children from CALD backgrounds more generally)

The recently established Office of Children has been conducting consultations around Victoria since November 2005 as a prelude to developing a “Plan for Children”. In March this year, I attended a three-hour workshop focussed on the needs of 0–8 year old children from CALD backgrounds in general, and refugees in particular. The 20 participants came from a range of ethno-generic and mainstream agencies working with very young children. None had mental health expertise but I was impressed with their understanding and sophistication about the mental health dimensions of their young charges and their families. Some of the important themes to come out of the workshop included:
? Frustration caused by the multiple sources of funding for different parts of their programs and the different restrictions to which these funding sources were tied. This often meant that children in the same group received different kinds of help which had nothing to do with their real needs.
? Insufficient funding and resources to provide the quality and quantity of services which could really assist the children and their families attending childcare programs.
? Parents from CALD backgrounds generally do not know how the system works and so are unable to ask questions which would lead to their obtaining the services they need for themselves and their children. It is the responsibility of the professionals with whom they come into contact to provide them with information without having to be asked. One example given was that CALD parents don’t realise the importance of putting their child’s name down as soon as possible if they want them to attend childcare or kindergarten. This is one reason why those children who need the assistance most are least likely to get it.
? Parents need parenting programs to assist them understand that while some ways of disciplining their child are unacceptable in Australia this does not mean that they can’t socialise them at all. They need help in exploring alternative ways of disciplining. It is not unusual for migrant children to run wild because parents are terrified of Protective Service intervention if they, the parents, smack them.
? Staff working in centres are at the front line in dealing with families who have suffered unimaginable trauma, yet they are not trained to deal with the distress confronting them on a daily basis. They
need training and access to consultation.
? The training staff receive is “Western” in focus and inadequate to work with families from a range of different cultures. Because of their lack of knowledge about cultural diversity they often take the attitude that the child is now in Australia and needs to learn to fit in. This is racist.
? There is a shortage of trained staff on the one hand, and on the other, there are unemployed migrants trained to work with young children who are unable to get registration. No bridging courses exist and neither is there an apprenticeship/mentoring structure to provide support and supervision which
would enable them to requalify and ease the staff shortages. Centres employ recent graduates who are out of their depth in handling the emotional needs of children from different cultures, they too are inadequately supported and don’t stay. Aside from all the other reasons why this is unsatisfactory, children who have such a disorientated background are in particular need of the stability provided by permanent staff.
Jenny Luntz

Visiting Professor

Dr Jack Shonkoff recently visited Australia as the Creswick Foundation Visiting Professor in Early Childhood at the Centre for Community Child Health of the Royal Children’s Hospital. He presented several workshops to workers at the Centre and to other groups involved in delivering early childhood services. A highlight was the workshop at Telstra Dome on Friday 3rd April when he presented a keynote address to 1200 such people from the Department of Human Services, local government and non- government organisations.

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Dr Shonkoff is internationally recognized for his expertise in early childhood experience and brain development, and for his research into the intersection of science, policy, and practice in advancing the healthy development of young children and their families. He is the Gingold Professor of Human Development and Social Policy at Brandeis University, USA.
Prior to assuming this position, he was the Dean of The Heller School for Social Policy and Management and, before that, Professor of Paediatrics and Chief of the Division of Developmental and Behavioural Paediatrics at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. He has authored more than 120 publications, including nine books. He co-edited From Neurons to Neighborhoods: The Science of Early Childhood Development and has edited two editions of the Handbook of Early Childhood Intervention. The book Neurons to Neighborhoods has been much cited and very influential in summarizing the evidence base for the importance of early childhood, as well as pointing to policy and service delivery directions that are needed if we are to improve children’s outcomes.
The keynote address covered the linkages between neurobiology, developmental psychology and the concept of social capital.

Brains are built over a period of years. Neural circuits for basic processes are wired first, with higher level circuits being built on lower circuits. Genes say, “It’s time”, but experience sculpts the circuitry. Higher level skills build on lower level skills. The interaction of gene expression and early experiences affects brain architecture. Evidence was provided that richer experience produced a richer neural circuitry. However, brain plasticity and ability to change decrease over time, and brain circuits stabilize. It is more efficient, biologically and economically, to get a good start than to have to have to fix things later. The optimal time for building circuits is in the pre-school period, after which you largely just have to work with what you’ve got.
Nurturing, enriched and responsive relationships build healthy brain architecture. Persistently elevated stress hormones disrupt brain architecture and lead to lower thresholds for stress responses. This “toxic stress” from early childhood adversity produces a range of poor outcomes. Comparison of high adversity with low adversity shows a five-fold increase in poorer developmental outcomes. A study of child protection cases showed more than half with developmental delays.

The Perry Pre-school study of children provided with an enriched pre-school child care program showed a 17:1 benefit when followed up at age 40. A 4:1 benefit was identified for participants in terms of income, housing, employment and other aspects of quality of life. A 13:1 benefit was identified for the community in terms of higher taxes, lower social security benefits, lower crime rates and lower need of support services.

The social capital of the nation in terms of its population of highly educated, productive and well-socialised citizens, is largely determined by what happens to its children in the pre-school years. Quality child care intervention makes a huge difference. We need to pay as much attention to emotional wellbeing as to cognitive stimulation. Stable, supportive, nurturing relationships are essential. Value for money involves quality. Pre-school child care is an opportunity to improve social capital by enrichment of healthy child-rearing and also an opportunity to intervene in risk factors such as unemployed parents, depressed mothers, parental substance use and poverty in general.
Allan Mawdsley, President, MHYF Vic

Child & Family Policy

The keynote address by Dr Jack Shonkoff has provided much needed scientific evidence supporting the policies advocated by MHYF Vic. The exciting thing is that he was not only talking to the converted but to key players in government who need to be converted. There are signs that his message has been heard. Minister for Children, Sherryl Garbutt MP, told the conference that the government will be allocating considerable money towards implementing the kinds of programs advocated by Dr Shonkoff and by last year’s visiting professor, Dr NaomiEisenstadt. A major policy announcement will be made in the lead up to the forthcoming State election. MHYF Vic awaits the announcement with interest, and will continue to advocate for these much needed improvements in children’s services.
Allan Mawdsley, President, MHYF Vic

MHYF Vic Secretary
Further to our congratulations in the last newsletter to Rebecca Riseley for the anticipated birth of her first baby, MHYF Vic is pleased to report that Rebecca’s role as Secretary of MHYF Vic will be taken over by Jacinta Bleeser. Jacinta is a Psychologist with the Department of Human Services.
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Jacinta Bleeser


Coordinator of Consumer/Carer Liaison
Chantal Aiello has been appointed as Coordinator of Consumer/Carer Liaison for MHYF Vic. This involves keeping contact with consumers and carers in MHYF Vic membership and with the range of community organisations representing their interests.


Chantal Aiello
Chantal is also heavily involved in preparations for the Consumer Symposium sponsored by MHYF Vic at the forthcoming IACAPAP Conference.


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