Child mental health program to expand
A LANDMARK program that allows South Australian parents and their young children 24-hour access to qualified child psychologists is to be expanded interstate.
Adelaide-based clinical psychologist Kirrilie Smout, whose Developing Minds practice at Wayville specialises in working with children and teens, says with one in seven Australian children diagnosed with a mental disorder, it’s vital families have support readily available.
“Ten years ago, our psychology clinic had a twoweek waiting list; today, on average, it’s three to five months,” she said.
“This is crazy, as child mental health problems are linked to adolescent mental health problems, which are linked to adult mental health problems.
“We need to intervene earlier as having a sixmonth wait to see a child psychologist isn’t workable.
“There are a lot of online e-mental health programs for teens in Australia, such as eheadspace and ReachOur.com, but very few focus on primary-aged children.”
Ms Smout said only 14 per cent of children who had a psychological disorder visited a clinic.
“My feeling in talking to parents at our clinic, and we see over 160 families here every week, is that so many parents find it tough to get their kids to therapy – and, more and more, they’re looking for other options,” she said.
In response, Ms Smout has created Calm Kid Central, an online site on which parents and carers can ask unlimited questions of child psychologists and get answers within 48 hours.
The subscription site also has videos to help children cope with worry, social problems and frustration, as well as a series of work sheets for families.
Initially aimed at families across SA, it is now being offered in Victoria as part of a Government-funded trial.
“My focus is on giving kids a whole new way of getting psychological support rather than being stuck in our old ways of ‘Come to the clinic and see a psychologist for an hour’ model.
This is our way of providing online access to a child psychologist within 48 hours, plus it can teach primary-aged kids with big feelings to manage emotions,” she said.
For Ms Smout, “big feelings” cover a wide range of a youngsters’ emotions and behaviours, from worrying or feeling anxious, to being easily frustrated or finding it tough to make and keep friends.
Ms Smout said a recent six-month analysis of more than 80 families, who used the online site over a fourmonth period. showed 97 per cent found it useful.
“We are now taking on about one new family every week (some pay privately, some are funded by the Government),” she said.
“Parents reported children experienced a significant drop in things such as anxiety, defiance, frustration and attention problems. “In addition, on average, parents reported a statistically significant increase in parental adjustment and wellbeing.”
Last month, Calm Kid Central was recognised at the annual Adelaide PHN Primary Health Care Awards, winning the Outstanding Health Promotion Program gong.
Ms Smout said the trend to online should not take away the importance of face-to-face treatment, and for many, online treatment was not the best option.
SUPPORT: One in seven children is diagnosed with a mental disorder. Below, Kirrilie Smout.