Professor Phillip Slee, Professor Michael Lawson, Professor Alan Russell, Dr Helen Askell-Williams, Dr Katherine Dix, Professor Laurence Owens, Grace Skrzypiec, Dr Barbara Spears
Centre for Analysis of Educational Futures, Flinders University of South Australia
Project completion year
This project is an evaluation of the national pilot of KidsMatter: the Australian Primary Schools Mental Health Initiative. KidsMatter aims to support the mental health and well-being of Australian children by helping schools implement evidence-based mental health promotion, prevention and early-intervention strategies. Using a whole-school approach, KidsMatter provides schools with a framework, implementation process and key resources to improve mental health outcomes for school students.
A pilot phase of KidsMatter was trialled in 100 schools across Australia during 2007–2008. Fifty schools ran KidsMatter during the 2007 and 2008 school years. The remaining schools undertook KidsMatter during the 2008 school year. A consortium based in the Centre for Analysis of Educational Futures at Flinders University undertook an evaluation of the two-year trial.
The evaluation examined the impact of KidsMatter on schools, teachers, parents and students. Teachers and parents of students (student target age of 10 years) were surveyed during 2007 and 2008. Special emphasis was placed on the impact of KidsMatter on students’ mental health. Mental health was measured to include both strengths and difficulties, with the main measure being the internationally used Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire.
The evaluation shows that this initiative has worked well. In participating schools, the number of mental health difficulties in students diminished and, overall, children experienced improved mental health and well-being.
There were positive changes to schools, teachers, children and parents/caregivers associated with KidsMatter over the two-year trial:
- Evidence of change in all four components of the KidsMatter framework (positive school community, social and emotional learning, parenting support and early intervention for students experiencing mental health difficulties).
- Significant improvement in students’ measured mental health, in terms of both reduced mental health difficulties and increased mental health strengths.
- Teachers felt more confident in dealing with issues relating to students’ mental health and were generally positive about the professional development delivered in KidsMatter.
- There was more apparent benefit for students with higher levels of mental health difficulties at the start of the trial.
In general, schools adopted KidsMatter and actively worked at its implementation, with teachers and parents becoming increasingly engaged with KidsMatter.
Over the course of the trial, most progress was made on implementing component 2 (social and emotional learning for students), and least progress was made on component 3 (parenting support and education) and component 4 (early intervention for students).
A closer examination of the data revealed differences in the degree of implementation across schools. High implementation schools paid more attention to the prescribed seven-step implementation process and displayed a higher level of involvement of all stakeholders, including the active involvement of the school leadership team.
Although there were some difficulties and barriers to the implementation of KidsMatter, such as lack of available time in school timetables, there were positive reports about the impact of KidsMatter from stakeholders, including effects such as:
- helping to get mental health as an issue onto schools’ agendas
- providing a conceptual framework for considering mental health issues
- providing a common language that enabled school communities to work on these issues
- making an impact on school culture, which facilitated the raising of issues related to mental health and child development.
Implications for policy, practice and further research
The evaluation recommended that the broad framework, processes and resources of KidsMatter be maintained as the basis for a national roll-out.
To improve the efficacy of KidsMatter, the evaluation recommended a number of further developments:
- Provide guidelines to help schools implement KidsMatter in a structured and sustained way.
- Examine the conceptual model and the interactions of the elements on which KidsMatter is based, further specifying the nature of the risk and protective factors for student mental health.
- Give further consideration to ways in which schools can increase the effectiveness of component 3 (parenting support and education).
- Strengthen component 4 (early intervention for students with mental health difficulties) through further professional development for teachers and further consideration of ways to build stronger connections between external agencies and schools.
- Consider ways to further support school leaders’ commitment to KidsMatter in their school setting.
- Consider how to help schools and teachers implement and engage with components 3 and 4.
- Attend to the differing manifestations of students’ mental health in home and school settings, and the consequences of these setting-based differences for students, teachers and parents.
- Consider how KidsMatter can be productively linked with other mental health initiatives in schools, such as the mandated National Safe Schools Framework or the Council of Australian Governments National Action Plan for Mental Health 2006–2011.
Further information and resources are available online at: www.kidsmatter.edu.au