Lana Jankowiak is a KidsMatter Primary Project Officer and an experienced social worker of nearly 30 years. Lana has been with KidsMatter since the pilot program in 2006, working on the ground with primary schools. She speaks about all the ways KidsMatter supports whole-family mental health.

Can you tell us about your role and mental health background?

“I joined KidsMatter Primary in 2006 as the Coordinator for SA and, since 2012, I have been a Coordinator of Special Projects in QLD. My roles involve working closely with primary schools to help them implement KidsMatter. As a Social Worker, I have worked in the area of welfare and education for nearly thirty years. My experience has included having the privilege of working with many families, carers and children. I have a genuine commitment to the mental health of children and their welfare, and utilising creativity in suggesting ways of working with adults to better meet children’s needs.”

What have you noticed about the involvement of parents and carers at KidsMatter schools?

“KidsMatter has made an incredible difference in improving schools’ relationships with their families – particularly when they have focussed on Component 1 (Positive School Community) and Component 3 (Working with Parents and Carers) and had robust and challenging discussions about what they do well, and where they could improve things for their children and families. Each school has its’ own unique context, and they have gone about developing relationships in many creative and varied ways. Over time, schools have noticed increased involvement of families and carers in school events, parents and foster carers coming to the school seeking assistance for their children, families building support opportunities, and friendships among themselves, teachers and families working closely together in the best interests of the children.”

What impact do you think KidsMatter has on the family unit as a whole?

“KidsMatter is about mental health. It promotes that being mentally healthy is for everybody and should be seen as equally important as physical, nutritional and spiritual health – they all need to complement each other. When KidsMatter is implemented in a school community it provides an opportunity for us all to work together in the best interest of children. KidsMatter provides an opportunity for us to acknowledge the significant impact that the family unit has on a child. If a child likes going to school, feels like they belong, and is engaged in learning, it has a positive impact on the family unit.”

Have you seen the impact of KidsMatter on families specifically affected by a mental health difficulty?

“I have been privileged to witness and hear about the difference KidsMatter has made to a number of such families. One highlight was hearing how children re-engaged with the school (began attending) and began to improve in various curriculum areas. I have also seen schools, as a result of KidsMatter, take the time to gather information and gain respectful understanding about particular circumstances, before making assumptions. By gaining an understanding, schools were in a position to seek the support of key services - and have school staff provide appropriate support - with families feeling respected and not judged.” 

How do you think health professionals can best work with schools to support children’s mental health?

“As a starting point, health professionals can help schools develop their own understanding of and common language around mental health. Ideally, this should happen as an ‘early intervention approach’ - building relationships with a school before there is an issue. There are so many wonderful organisations and people working in the best interests of children and their families. However, the challenge for schools is finding the time to know what already exists, what services are provided, and how they can complement and/or integrate with existing school services so they are not reinventing the wheel. Early conversations between schools and health professionals can really help achieve the most appropriate mix of support and services for each school community.”