New children’s mental health and wellbeing roadmap

Morgan Liotta

15/10/2021 3:07:43 PM

The new national strategy takes on board the RACGP’s recommendations that GPs are central to the ongoing process.

Young boy sitting alone
The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in a rise in mental health issues for children and young people.

In February this year, the RACGP submitted recommendations to the National Mental Health Commission on GPs’ role in the mental health and wellbeing of children, as part of a national draft strategy.
The Federal Government this week launched the world-first National Children’s Mental Health and Wellbeing Strategy (the strategy), providing the framework to ensure solid foundations are set during childhood.
As part of Australia’s long-term national health plan, the strategy is designed to implement a preventive, integrated, whole-of-community approach to maintain and support the mental health and wellbeing of children aged 0−12 and their families.
GP Dr James Best, Chair of RACGP Specific Interests Child and Young Person’s Health and member of the Children’s Strategy Expert Advisory Group that developed the report, is pleased with the initial plan.
‘They have largely listened to what the college was pushing for,’ he told newsGP.
‘The strategies are very well thought through and strategically sound, which took a lot of expert input, and the principles of the report are commendable.
‘In particular, the emphasis that was taken away from this being a pathological or diagnostic approach and more focusing on a wellbeing continuum really fits well with what we know about how children function and how mental health issues can impact on them.’
The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in a rise in mental health issues for children and young people, with lockdowns, school closures and vulnerable households placing this population at risk.
With GPs shown to be the most commonly accessed mental health provider for children aged 0–12, the strategy report outlines their role in assessment and referral pathways, including for child mental health services and systems to be closely integrated with general practice.
Dr Best said the integrated care model is a key recommendation of the college submission to ensure GPs have central and ongoing involvement in children’s mental health prevention and management.
‘The [strategy] report has got it right and taken note of the critical role of primary care, particularly general practice, in this area,’ he said.

‘The emphasis on looking at the child in a family or a community context is very sound, and it’s also consumed with the principles of general practice.’
Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt said the strategy builds on the knowledge that adequate support can improve long-term outcomes and help children achieve their full potential in life.
‘To ensure that every child has the opportunity to grow up in a healthy and supportive environment that helps them and their families and communities to thrive we need a mental health and wellbeing system that is well-designed, comprehensive and nationally consistent,’ he said.
The strategy outlines the requirements for an effective system of care for children using four focus areas:

  • Family and community
  • Service system
  • Education settings
  • Evidence and evaluation
Increasing parent and carer mental health literacy to support children via evidence-based programs and resources, with particular support for communities with the highest levels of need, is part of the family and community focus area.
Rather than systems ‘siloed among different professionals’, the service system focus will support accessible, equitable and coordinated systems. According to Dr Best, these are all relevant to general practice.
‘Developing a skilled set of professions to deal with children with mental health issues or risk of mental health issues … is really once again important in the general practice context, because we want our GPs to be able to deal with these situations and feel confident,’ Dr Best said.
As part of the collaborative care model, another key recommendation from the college submission, the strategy will update current Medicare items to promote collaborative care and ensure patient access to Medicare-subsidised psychological therapy sessions. This will enable all healthcare providers to:
  • claim for case conferencing
  • claim for consultations with parents and carers without the child present as part of the child’s care
  • communicate with educators and other service providers about a child’s treatment and support plan.
Under the evidence and evaluation focus area, the strategy promises to ensure better collection and use of data through collaborating with experts to resolve current barriers to sharing across sectors such as education, justice and community health, for the purposes of informing child mental health and wellbeing.
It will also evaluate program and service delivery to report the findings required to receive targeted funding based on gaps in research and the needs of priority populations.
Dr Best said the funding and policy aspects are important long-term considerations.
‘Now it’s really over to the Government to see what sort of response, what sort of issues, they come up with in terms of funding and policy,’ he said. ‘And I really hope the Government’s response is strong, because this is such a critical area.
‘Even if we look at it from a purely economic point of view, the humanistic and social justice principles of looking after children who have or are at risk of mental health issues, it’s a hugely costly area and investment.
‘It’s been estimated that a lack of early intervention in these areas costs the economy more than $15 billion a year down the track – it’s absolutely massive.
‘I hope the policy and initiatives that flow on from it are adequate to fill the need that is required.’
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Dr Dheyaa Shaheed Abed Ali   6/11/2021 12:49:32 PM

Thank you for the courses for children mental illness