Unlocking mental health support for children and families
Two Manna Institute members have joined forces to better assist defence, veteran first responder and remote worker families and the educators and they partner with.
Dr Marg Rogers, from the University of New England, and machine vision specialist and Dr Anwaar Ul-Haq, from Charles Sturt University, collaborated with full stack developer Asama Qureshi to improve access to the suite of online resources designed and developed by Marg and her Children’s Family Resilience Programs (CFRP) team. Parents, educators and support workers now need only complete a simple online form to receive a personalised program recommending the free linked resources best suited to the child’s needs.
Marg said the ability to screen the database for the most relevant online resources, and easily retrieve them, will be a boon to time-poor users of the popular e-books, learning modules and educational activities.
“This is a direct response to feedback from users, who found our resources relevant and of high-quality but difficult to navigate,” she said. “Making them more accessible through the automated retrieval system will hopefully mean they are used more frequently by vulnerable families and their educators.”
And in an era of growing machine learning cautiousness, the initiative demonstrates how technology can be co-opted for good. “The system can enhance these online community programs through technological advancements while significantly improving usability through our co-design approach,” Anwaar said.
Indeed, it’s a positive outcome that Marg believes would never have been possible without her membership of Manna Institute. “It is a strong example of the power of Manna partnerships,” she said. “And of the continued contributions of the CFRP project team, including Emily Small from Small Hands Early Learning and UNE’s Dr Stoo Sepp and stakeholders, who helped co-design the retrieval system.”
The Children’s Family Resilience Programs use a strengths-based approach, weaving research findings and lived experience into practical, early intervention resources. They are specifically tailored to defence, first responder and remote worker families, who face unique challenges when parents work away for long periods or families need to frequently relocate.
Marg said this can cause household disruptions (arising from parental service-related injuries or mental health conditions) and adverse impacts on children’s health and wellbeing, education, bonds with educators and peers, and their sense of community belonging. “These families report feeling marginalised and invisible, especially in rural, regional and remote communities, where access to support services is limited and 30% of serving defence personnel and 50% of veterans live,” she said. “Family support of the kind we provide through our online resources can be a significant protective factor in developing children’s resilience.
“Recent research has revealed children who experience adversity are up to 10 times more likely to have long-term health conditions. Adversity can include household dysfunction, including parental mental illness, family addictions and domestic violence, and abuse. So early intervention provided by educators and parents is key to supporting potentially vulnerable children and families.”
In addition to parents, early childhood educators and school teachers, major government departments and agencies, as well as service providers are now using the CFRP resources to improve their knowledge, skills and confidence. Canadian partners are even working with Marg to adapt the program’s storybooks and other resources to support their military and first responder families.
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