Mental health and wellbeing is vital for learning and life. Children who are mentally healthy learn better, benefit from life experiences and have stronger relationships with family members, school staff and peers. Good mental health in childhood also provides a solid foundation for:
- managing the transition to adolescence and adulthood
- engaging sucessfully in education
- making a meaningful contribution to society.
School is the most significant developmental context, after family, for primary school-aged children. Schools play a crucial role in building children's self esteem and sense of competence. They can also act as a safety net and assist in protecting children from circumstances that affect their learning, development and wellbeing.
Schools, working closely with families and the community, are key environments for comprehensively supporting children's mental health and wellbeing.
As a national initiative, KidsMatter Primary, through its national and state and territory teams, provides a range of resources and support to all interested primary schools. These are provided free of charge. KidsMatter is funded by the Commonwealth Department of Health.
KidsMatter was extensively evaluated in 2009 by Flinders University. The evaluation found clear benefits for students, school staff and for schools.
Benefits for students included:
- Increased positive mental health (eg optimism and coping)
- Reduced mental health difficulties (eg emotional symptoms, hyperactivity, conduct problems and peer difficulties)
- Improvements in behaviour and motivation for students already experiencing mental health challenges
Benefits for staff included:
- Increased staff satisfaction
- Professional learning opportunities
- Improved student learning and behaviour
Benefits for schools included:
- Stronger parent engagement and parenting capacity
- More effective partnerships with community
- Improved student educational outcomes
A subsequent analysis of the data found that “…KidsMatter appears to be positively associated with the level of student academic achievement, equivalent to 6 months more schooling by Year 7, over and above any influence of socio-economic background.”
You can read more about the impact of KidsMatter on NAPLAN results in the journal article: Implementation Quality of Whole-School Mentral Health Promotion and Student's Academic Performance (2011).
There are a number of models from Australia and overseas which contribute to the theoretical underpinnings of KidsMatter Primary. There is more detail about these in our Socio-ecological model (schools and families together) (Bronfenbrenner Ecological Systems theory 1997)
- The child is at the centre of this model
- Model for mental health promotion, prevention and early intervention in schools (World Health Organization 1994)
- Targets the mental health and wellbeing of all students through promoting a positive school community and providing education on social and emotional skills for life
- Risk and protective factors model (Commonwealth Department of Health and Aged Care 2000)
- Risk factors can increase the chances of children experiencing poor mental health
- Whole school approach (Health promoting Schools, World Health Organization 1986)
- Partnerships and services.
KidsMatter Primary is an initiative that promotes student mental health and wellbeing in primary schools across Australia. It was developed in collaboration with the Commonwealth Government Department of Health, beyondblue, the Australian Psychological Society, Principals Australia Institute (the then Australian Principals Associations Professional Development Council) and supported by the Australian Rotary Health Research Fund. KidsMatter Primary began in 2006 with a pilot conducted with 101 schools in the government, Catholic and independent sectors in metropolitan and country areas in each state and territory. Nearly 5,000 students were involved in the pilot schools.
KidsMatter Primary was established to assist schools to address a growing concern about children’s mental health that had been reported nationally and internationally. Findings from the 2000 National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing indicated that 14% of Australian primary school children experienced mental health difficulties. The KidsMatter Primary initiative introduced an accessible framework that would develop the capacity in primary schools for mental health promotion, prevention and early intervention and could be shaped to respond to local needs and circumstances.During the pilot in 2007-2008, KidsMatter Primary provided a range of resources and project officers supported the selected schools. Flinders University coordinated a comprehensive evaluation that found a number of positive outcomes for those schools who implemented KidsMatter Primary.Today the collaboration continues with beyondblue, the Australian Psychological Society and the Principals Australia Institute. Funding for the KidsMatter Primary initiative is provided by the Australian Government Department of Health and beyondblue. The number of schools implementing KidsMatter Primary increases each term.