A contemporary approach to adolescent and child mental healthcare

Posted on July 15, 2015

The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that around 10–20% of children and adolescents across the globe suffer from mental disorders. According to research on the subject about half of all cases of mental illness start by the age of 14, and three quarters start by the time patients reach their mid-20s. These disorders can lead to strained relationships with family and friends, problems with scholastic development and performance, additional disorders such as substance abuse and chronic health conditions, impaired quality of life, risk-taking behaviours resulting in an increased probability of involvement with the criminal justice system, and suicide. 
The Parent-Child Programme (PCP) is a community outreach and professional development project, run jointly by the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Pretoria (UP) and Weskoppies Psychiatric Hospital.  It endeavours to develop the skills of lay and professional persons involved in mental health care of children and adolescents, through pro-social activities. The programme focusses on exploring caregiver–child relationships, behavioural techniques and working with children and adolescents with special needs related to mental health. Ethical conundrums related to child and adolescent mental health are also examined.
The PCP has been in operation since 2008 and grew from a need identified in the Weskoppies Adolescent and Child units, where it was realised that both the patients and their caregivers could benefit from clear, practical guidelines based on the psychological principles used in the units at the time. Initially, the programme offered four condensed workshops throughout the year, dealing with elementary skills for grassroots-level caregivers at the beginning of the year and progressing towards advanced skills workshops aimed at specialist professionals at the end of the year. 
The programme proved to be extremely popular among a wide variety of participants, ranging from mental health professionals, educators, primary caregivers, foster parents, community organisations and social workers, to occupational therapists and postgraduate students in the fields of mental health and child/adolescent studies. A couple of years ago, a decision was made to condense the four workshops that were presented over the course of the year into an annual, comprehensive, two-day workshop that would offer greater utility to a wider audience. The number of participants in the PCP workshops increased steadily over the years to a point where the average number of participants now stands at 400 per workshop.    
This year’s workshop took place at the Faculty of Health Sciences’ Prinshof Campus on 30 June and 1 July and had two simultaneous streams, namely lay registration for the general public and CPD registration for professionals. The content of the workshop was formulated in analogy – using nautical imagery to illustrate the roles and relationships in adult–child interactions. For example, relationships were conceptualised as the complementary tasks of a ship’s crew, caregivers and healthcare providers were conceptualised as harbours while the children and adolescents in their care were portrayed as voyagers. These roles and relationships were illustrated in various sections in the workshop and provided an interesting and colourful way for the presenters to get their message across.
Expert panel members at this year’s event included representatives from the National Department of Education, the Department of Psychiatry at UP, and Weskoppies Hospital’s departments of Clinical Psychology, Occupational Therapy and Nursing.
Dr Junaid Hassim, who heads the PCP at UP was very pleased with the turnout at this year’s event. He says: “This year's Comprehensive Portfolio saw a record-breaking number of attendees at one sitting, reaffirming a steady progression in the appeal of the PCP. In addition, the active engagement of the audience sustained momentum for both days of the workshop. Professionals and caregivers alike have overwhelmed the Parent-Child Programme's digital media forums with positive feedback. With its integrative presentation framework, it is clear that the programme is benchmarking a contemporary approach to adolescent and child mental healthcare training”.
- Author Ansa Heyl

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