SectionsEngaging with Youth in the Digital Age Cross-Party Mental Health Group Formed Earlier Intervention Complements Anti-Bullying Strategy, Crucial to Achieving Healthier Mental Wellbeing Orange Tamariki Act 1989 Changes and its Implications for Counsellors Early Intervention: Helping People Sooner is Better
Counselling Aotearoa October 2019
Engaging with Youth in the Digital Age
In light of the digital age, 34 per cent of teenaged New Zealanders who experienced one or more unwanted digital communications didn’t seek help, Netsafe has found.
However, the non-profit online safety organisation’s Education Advisor, Pauline Spence, believes bridging the gap for those teens can be as simple as being engaged and asking questions.
“Our research has shown us that 34 per cent of young people choose not to seek support when something goes wrong online,” she says.
“Educators and parents are always asking young people about their day - we also need talk to them about what they do online. Like ‘what game are you playing, who did you chat to online today?’.”
Netsafe’s research, New Zealand teens and Digital Harm: Seeking and Accessing Support, also found two thirds of teens who experienced one or more unwanted digital communications in the prior year sought someone’s support.
Additionally, about half of those who sought support approached their parent or caregiver. Nearly a third preferred the help of a close friend.
Girls were more likely to seek support from a close friend compared to boys, while it was more common for younger teenagers to seek support from their parents or caregivers, older teens preferred to contact a close friend.
Nearly eight in 10 participants commented that “trust” was behind their decision to ask for the support of a parent/caregiver or a close friend.
A key part of Pauline’s role is helping to demystify the online world for those who perhaps don’t use it in the same way as young people.
While there might be a gap between what young people know and educators and parents know about digital technology, it’s important to understand that you don’t have to be a tech expert to help.
“At the end of the day it’s about taking time to engage with and understand what young people are doing when they are online and where they are doing it.
“Engaging with your children is really important. We teach young people to ride a bike and to cross the roads safely, so we have to take the time to talk about what they’re doing online.”
“While you don’t have to be a tech expert, having some knowledge of the online environment makes it easier to have more difficult conversations if a challenge arises and young people are more likely to consider our advice.”
With the implementation of the Harmful Digital Communications Act (2015) underpinned by 10 communications principles, a key component of Pauline’s job is to support early intervention initiatives.
“The purpose of the legislation isn’t to wrap people up in a court process. It’s primary purpose is to prevent harm and provide opportunities for quick redress or resolution for those who have suffered harm and the 10 principles give really clear guidance around online content and behaviours that can cause harm.
Cross-Party Mental Health Group Formed
In August, Parliament and community NGO Platform Trust delivered on the first recommendation of He Ara Oranga by launching the cross-party mental health and addiction wellbeing group.
The group comprises Louisa Wall (Labour), Chlöe Swarbrick (Green), Matt Doocey (National), Jenny Marcroft (New Zealand First) and David Seymour (Act).
However, at this stage there is no timeline, action plan or specific strategy for the group.
This, the NZ Association of Counsellors President, Christine Macfarlane, believes is a great step forward in addressing the country’s mental wellbeing woes.
Additionally, it comes off the back of some behind the scenes work between National’s mental health spokesperson, Matt Doocey, and the Association.
Throughout the past 12 months, the Association has continued efforts with Mr Doocey to form the group following the Labour Party’s non-commitment of the National Party’s idea in February.
“As professionals who see the challenges of mental health daily, we believe that tackling New Zealand’s mental health issues requires long-term collaboration and consistency between all parties,” Christine says.
“Wellbeing issues affect every single person, so we commend government officials’ endeavours to bring all sides of the Parliamentary house together to support such a worthy cause, and we enjoyed having the opportunity to take part.
“Although we support the Labour party’s Mental Health Inquiry, we also agree that a cross-party mental health group would be an important step that we should not wait to implement.”
At the time of the announced cross-party group, Green MP Chlöe Swarbrick agreed it was a chance to do politics differently.
“I hope this will be the Trojan horse to changing the way we do politics in this country," she said.
The group’s first step will be addressing the mental wellbeing of its members and leading by example.
From there it plans to draw on examples from other countries, and the formats of other groups like the cross-party Commonwealth Women Parliamentarians New Zealand Group, and GLOBE.
GLOBE is a cross-party group focusing on climate change, whose work resulted in the first Parliamentary debate on climate change. New Zealand also saw near-unanimous support on the historic Zero Carbon Bill, which shows it can be done.
The group also plans to commission and facilitate research and reports, which will be shared with others in their parties.
Earlier Intervention Complements Anti-Bullying Strategy, Crucial to Achieving Healthier Mental Wellbeing
School guidance counsellors in primary and intermediate schools would complement the Children’s Commissioner Andrew Becroft’s desire for compulsory anti-bullying school programmes.
So says the New Zealand Association of Counsellors President, Christine Macfarlane.
Her comment comes off the back of a report by the Chief Ombudsman, Peter Boshier, which condemned an Auckland school’s poor response to a series of serious bullying complaints.
Judge Boshier said the school staff failed to adequately deal with the bullying, which took a toll on students’ health.
Further, the report said the actions taken by school staff were ineffective in dealing with the ongoing behaviour.
School guidance counsellors, who belong to a professional association, are an effective resource that can be utilised to address mental health wellbeing, which can play a major role in cycles of trauma, Christine says.
And the earlier a young person presents to a counsellor, the better because investing early in our youth pays a range of dividends at a later stage, she adds.
“We need early intervention in primary and intermediate schools.
“Counselling our youth in developing resilience and building a comprehensive support network will not only help them to mitigate a range of adverse behaviours, but will also play a major role in addressing our country’s suicide rates.
“By listening to youth, counsellors can understand a young person’s history and circumstances and more importantly, help them flourish.”
Take Sinead Latimer as just one recent example, who is petitioning government for counselling services in primary and intermediate schools.
Sinead suffered depression for three years due to bullying, and it wasn’t until she moved to Kuranui College in Greytown that she finally received access to a counsellor.
If there was earlier intervention for students like her in primary and intermediate schools, then young people might feel less likely to do the unthinkable, Sinead said.
“NZAC wrote a letter for Sinead and her mum, Rochelle, supporting their efforts to take the petition to government,” Christine says.
“And like them, we believe that access to earlier intervention is crucial to achieving healthier mental wellbeing for our youth, which is a major issue for our country.
“There are multiple and large obstacles still to navigate before the country can overcome its mental health crisis, but one of those strategies is to ensure children and young people have adequate emotional support in schools – not just secondary, but in primary and intermediate as well.”
Orange Tamariki Act 1989 Changes and its Implications for Counsellors
A number of significant amendments to the Oranga Tamariki Act 1989 (Children’s and Young People’s Well-being Act 1989) came into force on 1 July 2019.
The amendments were passed under the Children, Young Persons, and Their Families (Oranga Tamariki) Legislation Act 2017, the Family Violence Act 2018 and the Oranga Tamariki Legislation Act 2019.
While a small number of amendments took effect immediately, however, the majority came into force on 1 July 2019 – and it presents counsellors opportunities to discuss policies and procedures, the NZ Association of Counsellors (NZAC) say.
That’s the summary of NZAC’s School Guidance Counsellors portfolio holder, Jean Andrews, who adds that these discussions should take place within counsellors’ organisations, particularly schools.
She’s referring to the new information sharing provisions, with Oranga Tamariki and the Ministry of Justice releasing a separate guidance.
The new provisions enable “child welfare and protection agencies, and some independent persons”, to request, use and share personal information for specific purposes relating to the safety and wellbeing of tamariki. This includes anyone working in education or health agencies, as well as counsellors in private practice.
Furthermore Section 66 C (a) (i) to (vi) sets out how information can be used.
These include preventing and reducing risk, contributing to an assessment of risk or need, preparing, implementing or reviewing a prevention plan, carrying out any function in relation to family group conferences.
“Some key takeaways from the changes are that the info sharing protocol is very clear,” Jean says.
“While the Oranga Tamariki Act and the Family Violence Act go beyond the Privacy Act in some parts, the Privacy Act still apply. These include the 12 principles for collecting and storing information.
“This has particular relevance for schools whereby some may interpret that information sharing around wellbeing and safety as being completely “open” in the school context.
“However, this is not the case unless the student has indicated that they are so “at risk” that all their teachers should be watching them at all times. In these cases, a safety plan needs to be negotiated with the student, and possibly parents, within the advice of the mental health agency dealing with them.”
Additionally, Jean says that teachers only need to be informed that a student is at risk, and that students have a right to know what information is being shared about them and to whom.
Other special circumstances for schools to consider are the practices that work best for staff, mainly training under the Children’s Act 2014 (formerly the Vulnerable Children Act 2014).
“The provisions are clear that assessment and decision making depend on professional judgement, defining this to be ‘based on training, expertise and experience about what information to share and it is grounded in evidence about the situation for the tamariki’.
“It is clear that this needs to be a trained specialist within the school setting. The person most equipped to do this is the school counsellor.
“In some schools, there is confusion about who that qualified professional is that should make decisions. In the situation where a counsellor or trained professional is not available, a senior manager may have to make these decisions. Unless the manger has specialised training, they are being put in professional risk, as they work outside their professional boundaries.”
Jean summarises that the provision brings into focus the need for trained counsellors/personnel who can operate in a professional and safe manner in all schools to ensure that the wellbeing and safety needs of all students are met.
“It also gives us an opportunity to reflect and tweak our practice and to discuss and share with colleagues and supervisors as we digest this new document.
“Most importantly it empowers us to deal more effectively to meet the needs of our tamariki by accessing essential information and partnering more effectively with organisations.”
Early Intervention: Helping People Sooner is Better
In the fourth of a new six-part series that explores the future of New Zealand’s counselling profession, NZ Association of Counsellors’ new Executive member, Sheryl Smith, discusses the benefits of embedding counselling into everyday life.
Sheryl Smith might sound like a broken record when she says early intervention is crucial to addressing a multitude of complex mental health issues, but that won’t stop her from repeating the line.
With nearly 30 years’ counselling experience under her belt, the newly appointed Executive member of the NZ Association of Counsellors is seeing more people exhibit more complicated issues.
And while she believes the country’s mental wellbeing has a way to go to address our tragic suicide rate, early intervention is effective in changing the course of lives, preventing secondary and more complex presentations later.
“Improving our overall mental health is a very complex question, but it starts from caring communities and good parenting, helping people to be good parents means attending to the mental health needs of parents and intervening when the first signs of problems occur – because even in the best of circumstances, bad things are happening and due to grief, separation, family issues of mental ill-health and when there is violence and sexual abuse.
“Addressing harm as early as possible so that people aren’t living with the effects of trauma over long periods of time – would be the major help. Counselling is the ideal method through which people can heal, learn new ways to cope and become more resilient.”
Working with children, young people, adults and families as counselling manager with the Napier Family Centre, Sheryl places over 800 people a year with counsellors at the centre.
She is seeing an increase in clients presenting with anxiety, adjustment problems and depression as well as sexual trauma and abuse, effects of survival issues, addictions and violence.
Depression, Anxiety and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder are more common diagnoses than used to be the case.
However, with broader acceptance of accessing counselling for mental health and wellbeing needs alongside other health professionals, people are more able to feel supported to address the effects in their lives.
“When people become distressed and desperate, they begin to think that there are not as many options for them.
“Earlier intervention provides skills to take different action, ability to broaden options and forward vision using; self-awareness, relationship awareness, healthy boundaries and healing from trauma. We can discover how resilient we are and improve our ability to work through other problems with tailored, new strategies in place.
“So, embedding counselling in people’s lives as needed would be a great place to start. Just as you employ a doctor for a health issue that you’re unsure how to treat – employ a counsellor if you need a safe place for support to process what you’re dealing with and need some assistance to work out your way forward.
“Counsellors throughout the country are doing really good work to help people deal with very serious issues. We’re mental health professionals, so it’s important to employ the right professional at the right time.”