HEARING THE VOICE OF VULNERABLE CHILDREN
Bernie Geary, Principal Commissioner of the Victorian Commission for Children and Young People, gave the sixth Winston Rickards Memorial Oration in the Ella Latham Theatre at the Royal Children’s Hospital on Monday 16th March. About 160 people came to hear a very challenging address on the subject of “Hearing the Voices of Vulnerable Children”.
Bernie began by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land and paying particular tribute to Dr Alf Bamblett who had died a few days before the Oration. This was especially poignant because not only was Dr Bamblett an Elder with a proud history of advocacy for education in the indigenous community but his loss was a reminder that indigenous children are disproportionately represented in the justice, child protection and alternative care systems.
An over-riding theme in the presentation was the importance of hearing the opinions of the young people themselves. Much of the decision-making is done on behalf of young people without hearing what they have to say
or paying much attention even if they do say something. The worst examples, of course, were in relation to the physical and sexual abuse experienced by many children supposedly in the care of adults for the purpose of protecting them from previous abuse.
Bernie gave a number of dismaying examples of how the system has failed vulnerable children. This has occasionally been because of criminal actions and sometimes by negligence but most often by ‘proceduralism’ where ‘ticking the boxes’ has had priority over genuine care. He tellingly asked, “Where is the carer”? when a young person attends Court represented only by a Duty Lawyer met there for the first time. “Would you allow that to happen to your child?
That really seems to be the acid test. If the system is supposed to be acting in loco parentis then the system must make it possible for some person to be truly in the substitute parenting role at all times. How can we make that happen?
It is intended that the full text of the oration will be posted on MHYFVic website in the near future, but there is a process of verifying the accuracy and completeness of the text before this can happen.
Annual General Meeting
The AGM will be held on Wednesday 26th August 2015 at Pacific Rim restaurant in Albert Park. Pacific Rim is a Thai restaurant in Bridport Street at the corner of Ferrars Street,
MHYF Vic Newsletter No. 48 April 2015
MHYF Vic: promote mental health, reduce stigma, advocate, resource, and collaborate 1
Albert Park. It serves excellent food at very reasonable prices.
The meeting will begin with a short business component at 7.00pm, prior to which the dinner orders will be taken. Dinner will be served at about 7.45pm, after-which Anne McLeish will describe developments that have occurred over the last two decades in out-of- home care for children in need of care and protection.
Although the restaurant does not require pre- payment or pre-ordering of food, it does wish to know how many people will be attending. If you are intending to come, please let me know by an email to
PREVENTION OF MENTAL DISORDERS (Project 4)
Recent and forthcoming MHYFVic newsletters are featuring a series of articles on Prevention of Mental Health disorders.
MHYFVic advocates support for preventive mental health, particularly at the universal level because of its potentially greater public health benefit. Five approaches to mental disorder prevention for children and families are being researched in this MHYFVic Project. These are : (1) General health and welfare; (2) Promoting family functioning; (3) Enhancing pro-social participation; (4) Promoting realisation of potential; (5) Dealing with toxic events.
This article targets the fourth of these issues. Other projects target the other four issues.
In advanced societies the importance of education is so obvious that asking the question, “Why do we need to encourage children to reach their educational potential?” seems almost fatuous. Similarly, its corollary, “How do we encourage children to reach their
potential?” seems equally self-evident. In simplistic economic terms, better education equates to better jobs and a higher standard of living. Ipso facto, education is important.
However, education is not just about jobs, it is about the development of the whole person. This includes the person’s mental health.
The seminal Perry Preschool research program (Schweinhart et al., 2004) showed that quality pre-school education changes the whole life trajectory of the child. Not only is there an economic benefit over the life span from better jobs and less reliance on welfare support, more importantly there is benefit from greater family stability. This means lower rates of family breakdown and lower rates of involvement in the criminal justice system. Such benefits extend to the next generation. In all, it was estimated that the benefits were about sixteen times the costs of providing that quality early education. Isn’t it amazing that our society begrudges spending more on quality education but finds more and more money to spend on putting people in prison.
The psychological benefits are at many levels. At the highest level, education enhances self- actualisation, participation in the arts and sciences, and personal well-being. Education enables greater access to information, improving prospects of maximising available benefits within society and minimising avoidable problems. Better communication, logic, and better understanding of other viewpoints can also improve prospects of problem-solving, maintaining relationships and avoiding disruptions. Interestingly, these principles are at the heart of two other MHYFVic Projects.
Laura Caire’s development programs for young people in the Juvenile Justice system highlights that many delinquents have significant project on language developmental language impairments that are highly correlated with cognitive executive functioning impairments. This means that not only do they lack the skills to compete in the everyday world, they also have impaired foresight, judgment, impulse control, and capacity to understand the consequences of their actions. When they have offended they also lack the capacity to explain their actions and negotiate acceptable outcomes. Laura is assessing evidence that improving their language functioning may also improve their cognitive executive functioning and reduce recidivism. If such educational programs can work for impaired adolescents, how much better would they work for young children without developmental impairments?
My own project on stigma also highlights a central role for education. The primary issue in stigma is the demarcation of a socially- acceptable “in-group” from a-rejected “out- group”. The out-group is labelled with feared characteristics that justify vilification and exclusion. Dealing with stigma requires reappraisal of the actuality of the fears. A non- feared person can then become part of the “in-group”. Prevention of stigma, however, is even more difficult because it needs a whole societal change in the attribution of feared characteristics (religious, racial, political and cultural).
Assuming that we accept the central importance of education as not only in economic terms but also in development and mental health, we need to consider the next question. How do we encourage every child’s educational progress to reach his/her potential?
Making arrangements for education of children has traditionally been the responsibility of the family, although the state has provided free, secular and comprehensive schools for the public. The abovementioned
research showing that the whole life trajectory is elevated by quality early education, means that the human capital of the nation is influenced by this balance between family and public contributions. Hopefully, the alternatives of public and private school enrolments encourage efforts to achieve quality standards across the strata.
The availability of quality education and the opportunity to participate is sine qua non. Encouragement by the family remains an essential additional factor. The high representation of Asian and Jewish children at universities compared to their numbers in the population is tribute to the importance placed on education within these cultures. The human capital of the nation would be greatly increased if similar cultural valuing of education was shared by the whole community.
Policy issues arising out of this discussion include (1) measures to improve availability and opportunity to participate, particularly in quality pre-school programs (2) measures to improve the cultural valuing of education. The process of the project will be to gather information about best practice models, and publish this progressively on this website until it can be formulated into an advocacy policy for MHYFVic to lobby the authorities.
If you have any ideas to contribute or if you want to help to develop the project, please call me. Members welcome
Allan Mawdsley Contact me on 0419 77 00 66 or
Schweinhart, L. J., Montie, J., Xiang, Z., Barnett, W. S., Belfield, C. R., & Nores, M. (2004). Lifetime effects: The HighScope Perr
Preschool Study through age 40. Ypsilanti, MI: HighScope Press.
MHYFVic Project “Language Development in Juvenile Justice” MHYFVic Project “Stigma”
HISTORY CORNER, 1848: Yarra Bend Asylum
In the foreground of the photograph above is a collection of timber and stone buildings that was the Yarra Bend Asylum (built 1848, closed 1925, now demolished), just near the junction of the Merri Creek and the Yarra River. Above, on top of the hill, people will recognize the Willsmere Mental Hospital (Key Asylum; built 1871, closed 1988). Originally, the Yarra Bend Asylum was an outpost ward of a Sydney asylum (Gladesville Mental Hospital, previously, Tarban Creek Lunatic Asylum). It was officially autonomous in 1851 when the Port Phillip District separated from New South Wales. The Asylum was first gazetted in 1867.
This asylum was due for closure after Willsmere was built, but overcrowding meant that new intakes occurred until 1924, despite the dilapidated buildings not having had maintenance since 1905! Soon after closure, the buildings were burnt out and the stone infirmary was incorporated into a new Venereal Diseases hospital. When this closed, the buildings became part of Fairlea Women’s Prison. Those buildings were then damaged in a fire of 1982 that saw the demolition of the old stone infirmary. The last remaining piece of the building is this gate pillar (photograph, below) that has been relocated to the west side of Yarra Bend Road, just north of the Eastern Freeway cutting.
As with Sydney’s first asylum, the building has been demolished and was inadequate at the outset. As with the colonies of Western Australia and New South Wales, the first asylum was erected within the first two decades of foundation. While the physical facts can be gleaned about these original buildings, it is difficult to find firsthand accounts of conditions.
AICAFMHA welcomes the recent Commonwealth Government announcement regarding the national awareness campaign to reduce violence against women and children. The Commonwealth Government will work with state and territory governments to deliver a $30 million dollar jointly funded national awareness campaign.
In COPMI news, the COPMI national initiative has produced a guide specifically for young people from 12 to 15 years of age who have a parent with a mental illness. It is now available for the public to order – free of charge within Australia. A range of other resources are available to order or download on the COPMI website.
‘The children were fine’: acknowledging complex feelings in the move from foster care into adoption.
This article, published in Adoption and Fostering, reports on a study analysing children’s moves into adoption. The researchers found that the emotional experience of the child, particularly their experience of losing their foster carer, became less prominent in people’s minds during this transition. The authors note that the child’s outward compliance with the move and lack of obvious emotion at losing her or his carers can be interpreted as signs that they are ‘fine’. The research findings are explored in the light of the understanding of attachment and loss in childhood, and of individual and organisational defences against pain and loss. Implications for future practice are discussed.
Social influences on seeking help from mental health services, in-person and online.
A research article on the social influences of young people seeking help from headspace services in-person and online was recently published in the BMC Psychiatry. The vast majority of both males and females across all age groups self-initiated use of the online service. Although there is a developmentally appropriate trend toward great self-reliance in seeking help for both modalities, for in-person services the personal connection with parents and family remains paramount. Family was found to be a stronger influence for males than females for all age groups. The influence of friends was not as strong as might be expected at these life stages, and was not consistent across age, gender or modality. Additionally, the role of other ‘gatekeepers’ (such as school staff or health workers) was overall found to be quite small.
OUR UPDATED WEBSITE
After much thought our website has been significantly revised to give casual visitors immediate information about what we do and what we stand for, whilst at the same time allowing members to go straight to specific sections such as Projects or Newsletters or Events, without having to navigate past reams of information.
Now that the main revision has been implemented we are working on tasks of development of Projects to give us the evidence base for our advocacy. There are quite a few items under development at the present time which are not yet reflected in the website but over the next few months we expect to see a burgeoning of activity.
Visit us on mhyfvic.org
2014 MHYF Vic Committee
* President : Jo Grimwade * Vice-President : Jenny Luntz * Past President: Allan Mawdsley * Secretary : Celia Godfrey * Treasurer : Anne Booth * Membership Secretary:Kaye Geoghegan * Projects Coordinator, Kylie Cassar * WebMaster, Ron Ingram * Newsletter Editor, Allan Mawdsley * Youth Consumer Representative, vacant * Members without portfolio:
Suzie Dean, Miriam Tisher, Zoe Vinen, Sarina Smale
Mental Health for the Young & their Families in Victoria is a collaborative partnership between mental health & other health professionals, service users & the general public.
PO Box 206,
Parkville, Vic 3052