Mental Health Inquiry Recommendations Highlight Needs of Infants, Children and Families

Mental Health Inquiry Recommendations Highlight Needs of Infants, Children and Families

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Tweddle welcomes the recommendations of the Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System. The Board, management and staff are grateful to Premier Daniel Andrews who has committed to the full implementation of the Royal Commission’s recommendations.

The inclusion of a commitment to substantial ongoing investment into services and infrastructure that supports babies, toddlers and their families will help lay the foundations for intergenerational change for Victorians.

The Report states that local Infant, Child and Family Mental Health and Wellbeing Services will consist of Infant, Child and Family Health and Wellbeing Hubs and Services. These will be delivered between public health services or public hospitals and non-government organisation partnerships that provide wellbeing supports (currently known as ‘psychosocial’ supports).

Quoted in the report, Ms Jacquie O’Brien, CEO of Tweddle Child and Family Health Service, stated that families often present with sleep issues, but as families build trust with clinicians and workers at the early parenting centres, they start to talk about their mental health and wellbeing: They’re coming to us with babies [that] don’t settle, but it is far more than that. [We are] a lovely soft entry into a system that can do some work in joining up different parts of the system to help families. 70 per cent of families coming into residential and [day programs] have high levels of depression and anxiety. They often present with the baby that won’t sleep, but the baby won’t sleep because something else is going on.” (vol 2 pp 131)

“Tweddle is well placed to support the delivery of a number of key recommendations” she said. “We offer an existing multidisciplinary team and 100 years of infant, child and family wellbeing support services. Embedded commitment to infant, toddler, child and parental mental health and wellbeing interventions underpin our sector leadership.”

The Royal Commission recommends that by the end of 2022, the Victorian Government establish a dedicated service stream for infants, children and their families. Additional recommendations are to provide developmentally appropriate mental health and wellbeing treatment, care and support services for newborns to 11-year-olds and their families.  By the end of 2022, and in partnership with the Commonwealth, the establishment of three infant, child and family health and wellbeing multidisciplinary community-based hubs is recommended.

The delivery of evidence-informed online parenting programs and group-based parenting sessions recommendations reflect services and programs already being delivered at Tweddle.

“Melbourne’s west would be well placed as a location for a recommended community based, subacute residential family admission centre” she said. “Utilising existing infrastructure, such as Tweddle’s Footscray based residential facility makes economic sense.”

Ms O’Brien reiterated the report’s findings that Victoria needs a mental health system that recognises the importance of the first thousand days, universally acknowledged as a window of opportunity to shape a child’s mental health for life.

Infants are more vulnerable to the impacts of stress and trauma due to the rapid rate of their brain development, and their dependency on the attuned presence and health of adult caregivers for emotional regulation (Zeanah, 2018). Furthermore, infants are the least likely out of any age group in Australia to receive a mental health response (Segal et al., 2018).

Harvard Centre on the Developing Child stress that the capabilities parents need to help their children thrive and experience good mental health should be strengthened in the very early years. Organisations like Tweddle deliver Harvard’s key recommendations of reducing parental sources of stress, strengthening core life skills and supporting responsive relationships.

Early physical, emotional and relational environments influence lifelong learning, behaviour and both physical and mental health, for better or for worse. Starting at birth and continuing throughout life, a child’s ability to thrive is affected by our ongoing relationships.

One of the most effective ways to prevent the development of mental health disorders across the lifespan is to intervene in the first three years of life (Heckman, 2006; Shonkoff, 2009; Wakschlag et al., 2019).

Tweddle will continue to work closely in partnership with the Government, the health sector and the family services sector to deliver mental health and early parenting support to families in the first 1000 days. We welcome the opportunity to build upon our services and our expertise to deliver the successful implementation of the final report recommendations.

 

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