Funding to help parents manage children experiencing post-quake mental health issues

Cure Kids Platinum Partner, AccorHotels, have generously supported a Cure Kids initiative to develop a research-based intervention to assist parents of children aged between five and twelve suffering from post-earthquake trauma.

Whilst there have been many initiatives to support children and families following the earthquakes, it has been identified by a collaborative group comprising child and adolescent mental health services, Barnados, Methodist City Mission and others, that there is a particular gap in this age group.

Various studies suggest that exposure to large-scale natural disasters is associated with enduring mental health problems in about 20% of children and adolescents.  Common post-disaster stress reactions in children include depression, anxiety, complicated grief, substance abuse and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).  In younger children, post-disaster reactions may manifest as aggression, clinginess, enuresis (involuntary urination) and generalised fears.

Recent research from Christchurch has shown that 22% (15,000 children) of children are experiencing a variety of challenges at school.  This corresponds with a sharp increase in demand for mental health services since the earthquakes.  In the three years to March 2015, there was  a 69% increase in child and youth presentations to community mental health services.

How parents cope with post-disaster stress impacts directly on child coping skills.  Help for children’s problems requires adult recognition, understanding and action.  Often services are solely targeted at children at the severe end of the spectrum, leaving less severe cases without treatment.  Support for parents to help them recognise the challenges faced by their children and provision of practical strategies to deal with these would address an important and significant gap.

With this new source of funding, Cure Kids supported Professor Sally Merry, who holds the Duke Family Chair of Child and Adolescent Mental Health at the University of Auckland, will work with collaborators in Christchurch to develop a web-based intervention, usable on tablets and phones, that provides parents with engaging information and skills helping them to address the most important and common mental health problems in their children (namely, anxiety, post-traumatic stress, depression and disruptive behaviour).

It is anticipated that the tablet-based intervention will provide bite-sized pieces of information and skill development suitable for rapid uptake and utilisation, while being appropriately suited to the lives of busy parents. A modular approach will allow parents to tailor their interventions to the individual child, and will allow further options if the initial approaches do not work.  Modules to help parents deal with their own stress and links to effective interventions will also be included.

It is envisaged that several iterations of the model will evolve through testing and refining, with the final version being ready to release in 2019.

Cure Kids are incredibly grateful for the support and generosity of the AccorHotel Group, without which this project would not proceed.