World First National Mental Health Strategy to transform support for young children and families

12 October 2021 – Australia’s peak children’s charity, UNICEF Australia, says the release today of the Government’s world-first National Children’s Mental Health and Wellbeing strategy is a huge step in transforming how we address young children’s mental health.

The strategy, which provides a framework to guide the development of a comprehensive, integrated system of services to children aged 0-12 and their families, is welcome and a “once in a generation” moment said UNICEF Australia’s Director of Australian Programs and Child Rights, Nicole Breeze.

“This strategy is a ‘game changer’ for it being, “child centred, prevention focused, targeting early intervention and needs based, not diagnosis driven,” Ms Breeze said.

“We know that more than 50 per cent of adult mental health manifests before the age of 14 so this is a much-needed reform to support young children. But we also recognise that the known mental health impacts of COVID-19 on children so far is only the tip of the iceberg -  which makes the implementing of this strategy all the more urgent.

UNICEF Australia participated in the expert reference group for children aged 5 to 12 and is pleased it directly responds to many of the key recommendations made:
  • The first guiding principle of the strategy is that it is child focussed
  • It is geared at reducing the stigma associated with mental health challenges for children and their caregivers;
  • It has a strong focus on early intervention and prevention 
UNICEF Australia also worked together with the National Mental Health Commission throughout the development of the strategy to ensure that children were directly consulted to inform the design.

Ms Breeze said policies that are designed for adults, too often fail to meet the needs of children. “The strategy launched today is richer for the insights gained from children, and it is critical they are continuously involved as the strategy is implemented,” she said.

“Two out of three parents and caregivers expressed they wouldn’t recognise mental health issues in their children so helping parents understand it and giving them resources, which this strategy aims to do, will only help them interact with their children better and with practical measures.”