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Virus prompts surge in pleas from children

Posted by Julie Power on 15 June 2020

The number of children aged 5 to 12 calling Kids Helpline spiked by 25% in April compared to the previous months this year.

Experts reported increased numbers in calls and website visits by children and parents seeking help during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown.

At Kids helpline, family relationships and violence was the trigger for nearly half of all requests for help, said Tracy Adams, chief executive of yourtown, the non-profit which operates the 24/7 helpline. With children out of school, however, calls about bullying were nearly halved.

In NSW, Kids Help-Line's counsellors also referred nearly 71% more cases to emergency services compared to the same time last year. These were cases in which counsellors believed a child was either experiencing or at imminent risk of significant harm, said Ms Adams.  Sometimes counsellors could hear an altercation in the background.

Total calls in NSW from children aged five to adults up to 25 rose 24% to 41,000 in the first four months of this year, compared to same time last year.

Ms Adams and other experts called for the federal government to make the provision of online and tele-health services a priority in the Mental Health Pandemic Plan which is being finalised.

Professor mark Dadds, the director of the Sydney Child Behaviour Research Clinic at Sydney University, said that there had been a "massive escalation" in parental stress and behavioural problems among children.

Australia is a leader in online parenting programmes that had been shown to reduce conflict and improve the mental health of parents and children, yet too few families knew about these services, he said. 

In a trial, Professor Dadds and others compared the results of a parenting programme for families with children with disruptive behaviour delivered in person and online.  It was delivered online to 133 rural families with a telephone call by a therapist after each session, and face to face to 73 urban families. The results, published in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology late last year, found online intervention was as effective as face to face for child conduct problems. Professor Dadds warned that the mental health of younger children and parents was often ignored.

Ms Adams said it tool a lot of courage for young people who were in a moment of "extreme crisis" to seek help. "What worries us is the ones who aren't calling, the ones who are staying silent, because we know the catastrophic impact.  We see it in the stats, of those who are hospitalised or worse" she said.  Often children were concerned about health and wellbeing of parents.  "Kids are often attuned to the tension in their families.  They don't' want to worry mum and dad," Ms Adams said.

During the pandemic, she had seen the "incredible value" of digital services. She said it was important to provide a "continuum of care" so children could access support when they needed it, and in the channels they preferred.

Author: Julie Power
About: Sydney Morning Herald
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