Between the kids who are thriving and the kids with severe problems are kids who are putting on a brave face as they struggle with school. Perhaps they are anxious and can’t concentrate. Or they’re being bullied, and they’re scared to go to school. Maybe they’ve lost someone close to them and are having a hard time staying interested in class because they’re still processing their grief.
Most schools have a school psychologist who conduct assessments, but they don’t always have the time to give counselling to kids who need it.
OzChild identified a gap in schools to help these kids so we began the Shine Assist program. This program assigns counsellors and mental health social workers to work with kids identified as at-risk in schools and provide counselling through the Medicare Better Access Scheme.
When Shine Assist Psychologist Karen began working at a primary school in 2011, she had about three to four clients, now she sees 12 clients every week. She says there is a high demand for intensive counselling. “The schools aren’t able to tap into the issues,” Karen says. “They don’t have the staff.”
Karen has been working with OzChild since Shine Assist began some 20 years ago. While the two psychologists at her school are busy conducting assessments, running classes and programs, Karen focuses on counselling.
“The psychologists really appreciate the service, they’re not always able to be there for the children,” Karen says.
This year, most of her clients have been referred to her for anxiety. “They find it difficult to participate,” Karen says. “They’re scared to make a mistake and they refuse to do work. It also affects them socially and they can’t communicate with their peers.”
The Prep kids especially can be overwhelmed by separation anxiety when they have to leave their mum in the mornings and go to school. “It affects their schooling in big way,” Karen says. “They have to miss school because parents find it very difficult to get them there.”
Karen has also seen kids who have lost a parent or sibling and needed grief counselling, self-harmers and kids who have been separated from their parents because of abuse. “A lot of kid’s schooling will be affected if they’ve suffered trauma,” Karen says. OzChild Education Services administrator Susan says bullying is a major issue too.
Students see Shine Assist counsellors through referrals from their parents or teachers, although Susan says older students tend to refer themselves. Teachers speak to the student’s parents before making a referral and encourage them to make contact with Shine Assist. The psychologist at Karen’s school often has parents and teachers approaching her with concerns about a student, so she’ll suggest that they use Shine Assist.
Building rapport with the kids is important to get them to share their feelings. “Normally I play a lot of games with the young ones,” Karen says. “I use the resources I have from OzChild. We might do some role playing and relaxation breathing exercises. I give them tasks at home and ask them to write a diary.”
Shine Assist is of no cost to parents and schools.