Child Aware is a Brisbane based counselling and psychology service that provides a broad range of services including counselling to children, young people and families.  Sponsored by the Greater Metro South Brisbane Medicare Local, Child Aware obtained funding from the Australian Government Department of Health to deliver counselling to children at primary schools in the inner east and outer east catchment areas.  Three schools within the region participated in the initiative including one KidsMatter school.

Child Aware had been developing a partnership with KidsMatter before the opportunity arose to apply for Access to Allied Psychological Services (ATAPS) Children’s Mental Health funding.  Given the nature of the KidsMatter framework, providing counselling to children in KidsMatter schools free of charge through a Federal Government tender process was a perfect fit.

Partnership activity

The purpose of the project was to offer counselling sessions at school in order to reduce barriers for children and families in accessing counselling. Some of the barriers typically experienced by families include:

  • lack of available transport to attend in-office counselling
  • the requirement to obtain a referral from a general practitioner before engaging in treatment
  • limited and unsuitable available session times
  • the risk of missing out on school in order to attend an in-office counselling session, and
  • a lack of awareness about funding options including those available through Medicare.

A further goal of this proposed model was to enhance collaboration between stakeholders, in this case schools, general practitioners, KidsMatter and Child Aware, thereby improving outcomes and efficiency and overall awareness of the ATAPS Child Mental Health Services program. 

How did it happen?

Child Aware psychologists provided a total of 74 counselling sessions to 19 children, either before, during or after school. The initiative aimed to offer a flexible and collaborative approach to service delivery, and to assist families with accessing available rebates via Medicare, ATAPS and private health funding.

Sessions were open to any parent who felt that their child needed assistance, and school staff were also able to identify children who might benefit from accessing the service.  Child Aware provided information about the referral process, thus creating a bridge between the school, the family and the general practitioner. Delivery of counselling services has focused on helping children manage their symptoms, emotions and behaviours, and to make sure that children are getting the best out of their learning environment.

Successes of the partnership

Susie Upton, psychologist with Child Aware, believes that “delivering counselling session to children within their own school environment is a very supportive approach.  It also has the advantage of seeking to address issues that arise within the school environment itself.”

Demonstrated successes of the project have included:

  • Increasing access to high quality, affordable psychological services
  • The high attendance rate of children to sessions, with limited cancellations/rescheduled appointments
  • The ongoing involvement of parents in their child’s sessions, with Child Aware psychologists ensuring that they make contact after each session to share goals, outcomes, homework tasks, or to discuss difficulties
  • Parents demonstrating their commitment to the project by attending sessions at the Child Aware office when their children have missed sessions due to absenteeism or sessions needing to be rescheduled
  • Families attending sessions in the office over the school holidays to ensure continuity of care
  • Parents accessing services for themselves where required (under ATAPS or another suitable referral)
  • Psychologists engaging with principals, teachers and school guidance officers in order to work collaboratively towards shared goals and to ensure the best outcomes for children
  • Positive feedback from school guidance officers who commented that the counselling sessions has had a positive impact on children and their families
  • Staff feedback commenting on one child who sought counselling and who has since improved in their capacity to self-regulate and access the curriculum more successfully.

Feedback provided by a school principal:

 “We are extremely happy with the service – our community has many needs – our families and students have many issues. Our guidance officer works three days out of 10 and we have 500 students.  Our guidance officer is unable to provide such a service – without that many of our students and families would be not receiving the help they need.”

All the schools involved in the project have expressed interest in continuing with the partnership so that Child Aware can offer their services to children in the forthcoming school year. 

“We’ve had meetings with all the schools and they all expressed interest in being on board again,” said Susie Upton, psychologist at Child Aware.