STRONGER TOGETHER: Beyond the Classroom - Navigating the Challenges of School Avoidance and Mental Wellbeing

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"STRONGER TOGETHER" is a weekly column where Tanya explores key issues. This week Tanya discusses the pressing issues facing our young people, from the rising tide of mental health challenges to the troubling phenomenon of school avoidance.

By IMPACT Community Services Managing Director Tanya O'Shea

Tanya O'Shea, IMPACT Community Services Managing Director

The balancing act of ensuring our children's academic success while nurturing their mental wellbeing is a struggle many parents can relate to. If you've ever found yourself in this complex predicament, rest assured, you're not alone.

In our recent episode of the STRONGER TOGETHER podcast, I had the privilege of sitting down with Vicki Ross, a dedicated guidance officer serving in both primary and secondary schools across the Bundaberg region. Together, we delved into the pressing issues facing our young people, from the rising tide of mental health challenges to the troubling phenomenon of school avoidance. Our conversation highlighted the gravity of these issues, prompting an in-depth discussion on the collaborative efforts needed to support the wellbeing of our youth.

The statistics are sobering. With conditions like anxiety, depression, and ADHD on the rise, alongside an alarming increase in rates of ‘school refusal,’ it's abundantly clear that youth mental health is a matter of urgent national concern. Shockingly, about 1 in 7 children and adolescents in Australia have recently grappled with a mental health disorder, underscoring the pressing need for early identification and intervention.

Mrs. Ross stressed the importance of spotting early signs of mental health issues, highlighting that a staggering 75% of mental health illnesses manifest before the age of 25. This stark reality emphasises the pivotal role that early intervention plays in shaping the lifelong trajectory of our young ones.

Equally troubling are the rates of non-attendance and ‘school refusal’ in Queensland, with overall school attendance rates witnessing a concerning decline in recent years. This phenomenon, exacerbated by a myriad of societal challenges, underscores the imperative of addressing the root causes contributing to school avoidance.

It is a challenging situation. For some families, it's really hard to get their child on the bus or in the car to get them to school and they go, ‘I can't do that today. I just can't have that argument again today. I'll let it go today.’ And then it's the next day, and the next. And before you know it, it's quite an extended absence.

School avoidance is complex and requires a tailored approach that acknowledges the unique needs and circumstances of each individual child and their family. Mrs Ross advocates for a "soft launch" entry back into school, starting with small steps based on each student's needs and interests. This might involve setting weekly goals, identifying supportive individuals ("champion people") within the school community, and gradually increasing involvement in school activities.

Yet, despite our best efforts, an individualised approach may not always yield the desired results. In such cases, exploring alternative education opportunities, such as homeschooling or specialised schools, may be worth considering to prioritise both the child's and the family's wellbeing.

Ultimately, finding an educational setting that fosters growth while supporting mental health is paramount. It's a journey that requires patience, empathy, and unwavering support from all stakeholders involved – parents, educators, and the broader community. Our young people are indeed our future, and they are unequivocally worth every ounce of effort we invest in their wellbeing.

Listen to Episode 9 of IMPACT's STRONGER TOGETHER podcast series "Brighter Minds & Enhancing Mental Wellbeing in the Classroom" here.

The value of a safe place to learn and be supported when entering parenthood cannot be overstated.

IMPACT Community Services holds a weekly group session for young parents or soon-to-be parents to connect with one another and learn from health professionals.

IMPACT’s Positive Start Parenting Team Leader Lesley Allen said this group was aimed at providing support and education for people aged 15-19 years old.

She said information to help the young parents prepare for when the baby arrives without fear of judgement was what the group was all about.

During their first session a representative from Child Health spoke with the group about their new Pepe Pods which they can give to the parents before the baby is born.

The pods are used to enable safe, co-sleeping for parents and new-born babies.

Lesley said the session will not always be held at IMPACT, with the potential to host the group at a local park or café if it is of interest.

The young parents group meets on Wednesdays from 3.30pm-4.40pm to ensure they aren’t missing out on school.

IMPACT can also aid with transport to the sessions should you require it.

For more information about this group phone 4153 4233.

By Tanya O'Shea, IMPACT Community Services' Managing Director

"STRONGER TOGETHER" is a weekly column where Tanya explores key issues. This week Tanya focuses on the power and opportunities which can come from expanding your education.

The power of education and the impact learning has on an individual cannot be understated.

Tanya O'Shea, IMPACT Community Services Managing Director
Tanya O'Shea, IMPACT Community Services Managing Director

When you study a topic of interest, you’re not only broadening your knowledge, but also building confidence, breaking down barriers and increasing opportunities.

While we are in the information age, the notion that knowledge is power is far from new.

Education has been a part of community for thousands of years; passing on and utilising information has always been crucial to survival and self-empowerment.

It can vary and be relative to the social environment of one’s community, it is vital, nonetheless.

It is also important to recognise that access to formal education is a privilege not afforded easily to everyone, and not suited to everyone’s learning style.

Some people learn visually with diagrams, by watching someone else or through practice. While other’s need to read or hear information in order to comprehend it best.

Regardless of how you learn, expanding your capacity and capability can lead to a sense of self-fulfillment and understanding while opening new career pathways.

Continuous learning also has numerous mental health benefits.

Learning something new, particularly something challenging can reduce stress, be grounding in the moment and create new pathways in your brain.

You may even find a hidden talent or passion.

If you are looking to learn something new, or you have a passion for supporting others, IMPACT can support your learning journey.

At IMPACT Community Services we strive to improve lives daily and for some people we do this through our employment and training services.

One of the programs we run is Community Work Skills, which offers tailored assistance to help Queenslanders over the age of 15 who have left school – other eligibility applies.

Community Work Skills is fully funded by the Skilling Queenslanders for Work program.

The tailored assistance includes case management to assist building foundation skills; support to complete quality training, job search workshops and one-on-one sessions for resume writing, interviews and job applications.
Training opportunities in aged care, disability, home and community, and hospitality are offered at IMPACT.

For more information head to IMPACT’s website.

Please note: This website may contain references to, or feature images, videos, and voices of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples who have passed away.

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