A new mental health initiative in Tauranga schools and early childhood centres has earned a favourable mention in a wide-ranging report into New Zealand's mental health system.

For the past year, Ōtūmoetai's Kāhui Ako – Communities of Learning – network has been piloting a wellbeing programme with the Bay of Plenty District Health Board.

Two specialist child and adolescent mental health clinicians have been embedded into the schools with the aim of addressing anxiety, resilience and other issues early.

The three-year pilot programme, which is also in the early stages of development with the Whakatāne Kāhui Ako, was briefly cited as a positive case study in the Report of the Government Inquiry into Mental Health and Addiction, released this week.

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Theresa Rosborough, Ōtūmoetai Kāhui Ako learning support co-ordinator, spoke passionately about the programme when the inquiry panel was in Tauranga earlier this year.

She said the panel then came back to her with more questions, and took great interest in what was being done.

"They liked the fact that it was starting young. They liked the fact it was in the school itself, but it wasn't a designated nurse role."

Ōtūmoetai's Kāhui Ako includes 26 early childhood centres and nine schools.

Rosborough said there were concerns about rising levels of anxiety and resilience in the students, from early childhood all the way up.

"Resilience means having that grit, having that perseverance, having that willingness to make a mistake, not get upset about it and come back and try again. It's the bounce-back."

She has been working in special education for more than 40 years and said a lack of resilience had become more noticeable in the classroom, and so had anxiety.

"Just an overall being scared of the world, that kind of anxiety. We've always had the behaviours, but now we'd be looking more at the behaviours where they melt down and don't seem to cope and find solutions."

She said the two specialist mental health clinicians had worked with dozens of children across the school network this year, and the number was increasing all the time as more cases were uncovered.

They mainly worked with mild and moderate cases as the programme was all about early intervention, but they also helped connect high-need cases with the DHB's Maternal, Infant, Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service.

"They are on the spot, and that's been the advantage in this," Rosborough said.

"They've been on the spot for the child. They sit in the staffroom and can have a conversation with a teacher over a cup of coffee. It's that immediacy."

She said the Kāhui Ako was working on the holistic wellbeing of children across the school network and that held an overall importance in everything it considered.

"If you can help a little one in primary school and early childhood to understand that the world isn't going to fall down if they can't do something, then you build the resilience in."

Lesley Watkins, the DHB's portfolio manager for mental health and addiction services – planning and funding, was the one who got the pilot initiative started.

She said for a number of years strategy documents in mental health services had encouraged earlier intervention and issues were being seen in "younger and younger" children in Tauranga.

"Kids were coming into secondary schools already with a whole range of issues that really hadn't been dealt with."

Watkins saw the Ōtūmoetai Kāhui Ako learning support programme as an opportunity to try something new, and pitched the idea to the school network.

The district health board had already undertaken a similar way of working with Corrections and had seen how valuable specialist clinicians working in-house was.

"You build understanding and also reduce the stigma and discrimination that often sits around mental health and addiction issues."

The Ōtūmoetai pilot programme had generated plenty of positive feedback, Watkins said, as well as diverting some referrals from the Maternal, Infant, Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service and had led to a better relationship between the schools and the service.

Watkins said the two experienced clinicians had also been able to help with learning difficulties and diagnosis.

"Rather than needing to wait until someone's very sick or a child is really struggling at school, we want them to be assisted with their learning and to know why something might not be working for them, and be able to do that as early on as possible, from a mental health perspective."


Ōtūmoetai Kāhui Ako
•26 early childhood centres
•Bethlehem School
•Brookfield School
•Bellevue School
•Matua School
•Pillans Point School
•Otumoetai Primary
•Otumoetai Intermediate School
•Te Wharekura o Mauao
•Otumoetai College