From the rise of online bullying to the instability of the past two years, she fears the mental health of our children has hit an all-time low. Her worries were confirmed when a report by The Black Dog Institute and Mission Australia found that one in four young people were experiencing psychological distress.
“A real passion of mine is advocating for children’s mental health and wellbeing, and I’m distressed at how limited the options are for children and adolescents who need specialist support,” Mrs Henderson said.
“COVID-19 has de-stabilised many families in our community, and we have a lot more children who are suffering panic attacks and experiencing anxiety. But families are being told by private providers that they won’t be able to see a psychologist for at least six months.”
CatholicCare Social Services Hunter Manning’s Counselling and Clinical Services Manager, Kelly Pavan, refers to this mental health crisis as the ‘shadow pandemic’.
“There is a strong relationship between student wellbeing and effective learning outcomes,” she said. “If a student is emotionally, psychologically or physically unwell, their ability to engage in school or perform to the best of their ability is diminished.”
Coinciding with students returning to school for Term 1 2022, the Catholic Schools Office and CatholicCare have partnered to create ‘Within the Gates’, a proactive new program which will see caseworkers embedded in schools to support student wellbeing and provide early intervention. These caseworkers come from multidisciplinary backgrounds including health, education and social work. They will provide support to students who may otherwise fall through the gaps of traditional support services.
“The beautiful part of this partnership is that they’re employed and supported by CatholicCare, so they have access to all of the services provided by CatholicCare but are embedded within the schools. This means they have the insider knowledge of both agencies and are able to draw on the resources that provides,” Mrs Pavan said.
‘Within the Gates’ will expand upon the successful work of existing program, ‘Beyond the Gates’, which for the last four years has provided casework support to families outside of school hours. As the frequency of mental health issues increased in recent years, it became apparent an extra layer of support was required to assist schools’ wellbeing teams.
“Each year we increase our amount of counselling team members, and ‘Within the Gates’ is taking a different, complementary approach,” said the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle’s Director of Catholic Schools, Gerard Mowbray.
“We wanted to pursue an approach which provided extra resources for our Catholic Schools. We looked at various models, and we found a model that was well-researched and had case workers implemented in schools. So, we approached CatholicCare about partnering to deliver this style of program to our students.”
These programs formed part of the Dioceses’ holistic approach to creating well-rounded students and graduates, said Mr Mowbray.
“School isn’t just about results”, he said while reflecting on the specific aims of the program. “It’s about creating young adults who can live fulfilled, happy lives. We want our students to graduate from school ready to pursue a meaningful pathway in the future.”
At this stage ‘Within the Gates’ caseworkers are embedded within five schools, however, this number is expected to increase depending on the results of the program.
For Mrs Henderson the support provided by the ‘Within the Gates’ program at Our Lady of Lourdes Primary School is the answer to her prayers. More often than not, her staff are assuming the roles of educator, psychologist, counsellor and social worker.
“We’re thrilled to be one of two primary schools to be selected to be part of the ‘Within the Gates’ program,” Mrs Henderson said.
“It’s going to be such a bonus to our children that they can talk to someone who is independent from their families and classrooms about their worries. I see it as a real opportunity for us to deepen our foundation of care.”