SectionsReimagine Wellbeing Together Thumbs up for government’s investment in school students’ mental health Association’s new Executive Director: Strong sense of social justice More primary schools supporting students’ mental health but still a major issue Most important Family Court development since the last review
Counselling Aotearoa August 2020
Reimagine Wellbeing Together
NZAC supports Mental Health Awareness Week
Describing 2020 as a tough year is an understatement for many Kiwis, especially with the ever-challenging COVID-19 situation coming on the heels of other national tragedies.
The NZ Association of Counsellors are, therefore, throwing their support behind the week-long nationwide initiative, Mental Health Awareness Week (September 21-27).
Kiwis’ mental health have never been so paramount, and anyone who has dealt with the country’s sprawling public mental health systems knows that it is far from perfect.
Many of us have had to reconsider the experiences, actions and surroundings that make us feel good, stay well, and uplift our wellbeing.
That’s why this year’s week is inspired by the Te Whare Tapa Whā framework, and is a chance for people to build on the simple things they’ve been doing to look after themselves.
The framework is a model of the four dimensions of wellbeing developed to provide a Māori perspective on health; taha tinana (physical wellbeing), taha hinengaro (mental wellbeing), taha wairua (spiritual wellbeing), and taha whānau (family wellbeing).
And NZAC will promote the week by asking ‘How are you REALLY doing?’.
It may not seem like much, but a simple question can lead people to seeking help before things become too dire.
After all, you wouldn’t leave a sprained ankle go untreated until it becomes a debilitating problem. Neither should anyone let their mental health go by the wayside.
NZAC is re-developing a mental health ‘Warrant of Fitness’ that encourages people to answer five questions about how they are really feeling.
Should someone need to speak to a professional counsellor after completing the WOF, they’ll be directed to NZAC’s counsellor search page on its website.
“We know Kiwis have a tendency to say they’re okay, even when they are not, so as not to inconvenience anyone,” NZAC Executive Director, Linda Allen, says.
“But we need people to know it is perfectly ok to say they’re not ok and ask for help. And NZAC wants people to know that there are professionals willing to listen and guide people in the necessary direction towards a healthier mental wellbeing.”
Thumbs up for government’s investment in school students’ mental health
The government’s multi-million-dollar investment in school guidance counsellors will greatly benefit the mental health of school students around the country, the NZ Association of Counsellors says.
President Christine Macfarlane welcomes the announcement by Associate Education Minister, Tracey Martin, that the government will invest $75.8 million over four years in improving access to counsellors for school students in primary, intermediate and secondary schools.
“This investment is an absolute necessity. It’s long overdue, but credit to the government for recognising the problem and addressing what is a major mental health and wellbeing issue in our schools.”
Ms Macfarlane says students are presenting to guidance counsellors with increasingly complex and severe mental health issues, and they are presenting at an increasingly early age.
She says it’s not uncommon now to see primary school students who need significant mental health support.
“This is really very worrying and unless their issues are addressed promptly and supportively, by trained and qualified professionals, those issues can go on to have life-long impacts for the students.
“The more we can do now to support students in schools with effective counselling and mental wellbeing strategies the better, both for them as individuals and for our society as a whole.”
Ms Macfarlane says a recent, first-of-its kind-in New Zealand study of school guidance counselling highlighted its effectiveness in helping students deal positively with mental health and wellbeing issues.
Jointly funded by the NZ Association of Counsellors and the Ministry of Education, the 2019 study analysed the effectiveness of school guidance counsellors.
The study found that, taken as a whole, students who received counselling changed positively and significantly over time.
“It’s great to see the government recognising the value of school guidance counselling and put its money where its mouth is,” Ms Macfarlane says.
Association’s new Executive Director: Strong sense of social justice
What drew Linda Allen, the NZ Association of Counsellors’ new Executive Director, to the job?
“I have a strong sense of social justice and believe that everyone should have equal opportunity and access to counselling,” she says.
That’s because of her own experiences with counsellors; one who helped her process the grief of a terminally ill family member, and those who she helped facilitate work with high-risk families.
“I’ve seen the difference that counselling can make when people receive it, and then how difficult it is for people to access a counsellor if they haven’t got the money to do so,” she says.
“This is true, too, for children in schools. They, especially, need good access to counsellors in schools because we know that early intervention is crucial for their emotional wellbeing and resilience.”
Originally from Canada, she grew up just outside of Calgary in Alberta, but you may have seen her in her very first vlog, ever, for NZAC last month prior to meeting her in person at the Association’s AGM in Wellington.
Her family always had a strong involvement in providing community support, and it has gone a long way to strengthening her principles
“I am of mixed ethnicity with First Nation/Irish from my mother’s side while my father’s parents immigrated to Canada from Ireland.
“So, I grew up with family being the most important value, which came strongly from both sides of my family and was lived daily.”
She has since lived in New Zealand for the past 36 years, working in the community sector for over 30 of those years, and been a manager for 14 of them.
Over this time, she has also managed multi-cultural social service centres that worked with high-risk families and was a manager of the Lower Hutt Family Court of 12 months.
Throughout her career, Linda has always had a strong focus on the management and development of organisations. She hopes to bring this experience to the fore with NZAC.
“I want to make sure that the Association continues cementing its professional profile in all walks of life – from the policymakers and media to communities large and small – so that counselling has a strong standing within New Zealand
“Because if counsellors and the counselling profession were to be more and better recognised, then we may be able to improve access to what we know is an extremely important part of society.”
As a full member of NZAC for the last 23 years, Linda is determined to continue the work Antony McFelin did during his time here to support members.
More primary schools supporting students’ mental health but still a major issue
Ahead of the government’s multi-million-dollar investment in school guidance counsellors, the results of a triennial five-week survey of primary schools made for interesting reading.
The New Zealand Council for Educational Research’s National Survey of Schools shared its 2019 findings in July, depicting what’s happening in New Zealand’s English-medium primary schools.
Authored by Cathy Wylie and Jo MacDonald, they found training for teachers to recognise mental health warning signs and provide classroom support was reported by 59 per cent of principals in 2019, compared with 15 per cent in 2016.
There were also increases in schools having systems to identify individual students with social or mental health needs, and to identify groups of students with social or mental health needs (63 per cent well embedded compared with 52 per cent in 2016).
Most teachers reported that their school had an effective whole-school plan to support student wellbeing and belonging.
About three-quarters reported that their school had small group programmes for students with additional wellbeing needs, and that student input was sought when developing wellbeing approaches (74 per cent in 2019, an increase from 57 per cent in 2016).
Around two-thirds could access timely support for students with additional wellbeing needs.
Student mental health needs were less supported, with 52 per cent of the teachers reporting co-ordinated support systems in their schools.
Only 32 per cent reported they had had training for teachers to help them recognise mental health warning signs in students.
However, that is almost double the 17 per cent who reported such training in 2016.
A majority of principals (63 per cent) identified support for students with mental health or additional wellbeing needs as a major issue for their school: one of the top four issues.
The top issues that principals identify facing their schools are:
- that too much is being asked of schools (72 per cent),
- funding (67 per cent),
- costs of digital devices and infrastructure (64 per cent),
- and support for students with mental health or additional wellbeing needs (64 per cent).
The survey was sent to a representative sample of 350 English-medium primary and intermediate schools throughout the country, going to each school’s principal, board chair, another trustee, and to a random sample of teachers and parents.
However, this year’s response rates were the lowest they have been since the survey began in 1989: 145 principals (41 per cent response rate), 620 teachers (27 per cent of a potential 2286 surveys sent to schools, from 181 schools), 126 trustees (18 per cent, from 95 schools), and 395 parents (17 per cent of a potential 2,286 surveys sent to schools, from 170 schools).
Read the full report here.
Most important Family Court development since the last review
It shouldn’t bear repeating, but any legislative changes that allows greater support for children in family courts are crucial, says the NZ Association of Counsellors (NZAC).
Earlier this month, the Minister of Justice, Hon Andrew Little, introduced the Family Court (Supporting Children in Court) Legislation Bill.
It was his next step in the ongoing programme of work to address the 2014 Family Court reforms, arising from the report of the Independent Panel Te Korowai Ture ā-Whānau which examined the effectiveness of the 2014 family justice reforms and recommended changes.
NZAC Executive Director, Linda Allen, commends the Bill’s amendments to the Care of Children Act and the Family Dispute Resolution Act to establish children’s participation as a guiding principle.
“I think enabling children access to a lawyer is one of the most important Family Court developments since the last review.”
It follows the Panel’s finding that the current system tends to make decisions about children, not decisions involving them.
At the most basic level, this Bill will require lawyer for the child to explain to their client – the child – the court proceedings and what is happening throughout in a way that is understood by the particular child, Mr Little said.
“A lawyer for child is incredibly important and a crucial idea because children’s needs often go by the wayside,” says Ms Allen.
“More often than not, children get caught up in trying to protect mum or dad, or their needs can be overlooked because of issues between their parents.
“And I think the family court ‘arena’, in its current state, can go some way to re-traumatising children – so, addressing that is quite an important point too, as they’re already undergoing a pretty stressful experience due to the breakdown of their parent’s relationship.”
Having worked in the community sector for over 30 years, as well as being the Manager of the Lower Hutt Family Court for 12 months, Ms Allen understands the difficulty lawyers face when providing legal advice when a client may also need therapeutic assistance.
This is doubly difficult when the client is a child.
“And then to be thrown into the adversarial nature of a courtroom can be another debilitating experience. So, it’s very important there must be some sort of protection of children from that, too.
“More importantly, children need someone to help them to have a voice.
“And from a counselling perspective, having a voice no matter the age or level of mental development is extremely important.”
She’s not alone in her thinking.
The results of a six-year research project by the University of Otago’s Children’s Issues Centre evaluating the 2014 Family Law Reforms show many parents and caregivers want their children’s voices to be heard when making post-separation parenting arrangements or navigating family justice processes.
Co-led by Associate Professor Nicola Taylor and Dr Megan Gollop, and funded by the New Zealand Law Foundation, researchers examined experiences of, and satisfaction with, the reforms.
Using the perspectives of 364 family justice professionals, and 655 separated parents and caregivers who were making parenting arrangements, researchers found over half the parents who participated in Family Dispute Resolution or Family Court processes were dissatisfied with the consideration given to their children’s thoughts, feelings and views.
Having a voice can help a child in their grieving process, Ms Allen says.
“They have someone who is speaking for them, so they’re heard, their needs are heard.
“And that helps to stop them being re-traumatised by involuntarily being put in a position of having to make a choice between mum or dad.”
Ms Allen highly recommends lawyers continue their efforts in referring children to the appropriately trained resource should they need extra emotional support, such as counsellors.
“They have been good in the past about referring through and developing those working relationships with counsellors, because their focus is to get the best for the child.
“But one issue that needs raising is the shortage of people who are trained to work with children. Because it’s specialised work, it is one of the things the Association hopes to address the future.”