In 1999 Emerging Minds (previously trading as the Australian Infant, Child, Adolescent and Family Mental Health Association) scoping project on Children of Parents with a Mental Illness was launched by the Minister for Health. In response to this report, the Commonwealth Government allocated funding for a three year national initiative to develop guidelines and principles, plus complementary resource materials for services and workers.
In June 2004 Emerging Minds signed a two-year contract with the Australian Government for a second phase of COPMI funding. The major aims of this phase were to increase awareness and uptake of the COPMI guidelines and resources among relevant individuals and services, to promote education and training of health and other relevant workforces, and to increase the availability of resource materials for children, family members and other parties affected by parental mental illness.
In 2007 the COPMI program was included under the Council of Australian Governments’ New Early Intervention Services (NEIS) for Parents, Children and Young People measure. This measure aimed to support mental health promotion, prevention and early intervention for all children through universal evidence-based school and early childhood programs and through targeted programs aimed at children who are at highest risk of developing mental health problems (or who have early signs, symptoms or diagnosis of mental health problems). The measure provided a framework for mental health promotion, prevention and early intervention for children from birth to 12 years.
Increased staffing from a little more than one to just under five full time staff in the third phase of COPMI funding resulted in an increase in the range and availability of information for families affected by parental mental illness, and quality workforce development resources for people working with these individuals. During this time a cutting-edge eLearning resource was developed, in order to help train relevant workforces.
Information about the effectiveness of relevant programs and interventions was also a focus, supported by strong lived experience participation and a commitment to expert opinion and quality evidence in relationship to COPMI's work. During this time the COPMI National Lived Experience Forum was established to aid this process.
Emerging Minds hosted the first world conference on children of parents with a mental illness in 2009 and links with international experts were strengthened by the formation of an international consultation group.
A focus in this funding period was improving access to information for family members (including children) and professionals. As a result a highlight of the period was the launch of a new-look website with improved usability and new information for ‘parents’, ‘family and friends’, ‘kids’ and ‘teens/young adults’.
A focus of this new information was also specifically to engage fathers with a mental illness (or with partners who experience mental illness) by launching dedicated resources to help them in parenting for the benefit of their children. The resources included a number of video clips of the ‘lived experience’ of fathers, young people and relevant experts, and helpful information sheets and links to other resources. As part of enhancing our online presence we also established Facebook and Twitter pages, and a YouTube Channel to increase communication with our valued audiences.
A further objective of the 2012-12 period was to increase access by primary mental health workers to skills training, enabling them to educate and help families where a parent experiences a high prevalence mental illness (e.g. depression and/or anxiety). We developed and pilot-tested an evidence-based psycho-educational DVD for families where a parent experiences depression or anxiety (‘Family Focus’) and an associated brief, preventive intervention with families where a parent experiences depression or anxiety.
Continuing focus had been on providing specialist information and guidance to organisations and agencies involved in the delivery of services to parents, children and to people who work with them. COPMI also continued our information exchange between researchers, service funders and providers regarding research and the evaluation of illness prevention, mental health promotion and early intervention strategies and services for children of parents with a mental illness.
Funding in this cycle enabled the initiative to promote the new work developed in the previous period and to reinforce foundation resources, whilst developing new ones.
A focus during the period was on promotion of the Family Focus DVD for parents with depression/anxiety and their children, and the associated Family Focus eLearning course for mental health professionals (developed in the 2010-12 period). A successful launch was followed by intensive promotion to both the public and mental health professionals. Face-to-face education workshops in various states enabled further uptake of the course.
Efforts were also focused on making both new and existing resources more accessible to individuals in rural areas of Australia. Newly branded flyers and posters were produced to help promote COPMI's offerings to the community and professional organisations, where there was perceived to be low awareness of COPMI resources.
Development of three webinars for mental health professionals, in collaboration with the Mental Health Professionals Network.
Development and collaboration on new material for use in primary and secondary school environments.
Development of a new 'Pathways of care' website resource to enable those working with families where a parent has a mental illness (and children in the birth to five year age range) to respond to child and family needs and/or refer to specialists.
A workshop at the TheMHS Conference in 2013, 'Putting Families and Children at the Centre of Recovery' that was run by people with a lived experience. The workshop's results of which were used to develop a report including recommendations for future opportunities to promote family-centred practice.
A key focus of this funding period was the release and promotion of the 'Let's talk about children' eLearning course. Popular supportive booklets for parents and for teenagers (12 to 15 years) who take part in the 'Let's talk' method were produced. Five states/territories commenced 'champion' training processes, and an implementation guide was developed to support these activities in local adult mental health services.
This period focused on increasing access to existing information for parents and families, and ensuring maximum engagement with eLearning courses by professionals. Efforts prioritized driving traffic to the new website’s key content areas and updated resources, resulting in unprecedented demand for all resources.
A further priority was to provide specialist information and guidance to adult mental health services, primary health care, early childhood education and care/schools and child and family services.
Continued work with adult mental health settings on guiding implementation of the ‘Let’s talk about children’ method, including wide-ranging partnerships and development of practice support materials to trial in training, practice support group supervision and simulated learning environments.
Continued work with the primary health care setting including new GP Mental Health Treatment Plan templates revised to incorporate parenting and child needs (in partnership with the GPMHSC), framework and guidance materials produced to assist GPs to support a child and family focus in mental health consultations.
Development of policy briefings for general practice settings and the early childhood education and care settings.
Pilot and evaluation of a whole-of-organisation, COPMI change-management strategy for future development in the child and family sector.
Continued work promoting the COPMI evidence base, including three new GEMS research summaries and collaboration with an international group of researchers.
Close partnership with over 100 family members with a lived experience of parental mental illness who were invited to provide input into relevant activities, including management of the COPMI National Lived Experience Forum and National Reference Group.
I have seen the ramifications of the COPMI partnerships and ripple effect as close as in my own home and as broadly as at international conferences. Louise, mental health professional