Young Northlanders struggling with mental health issues will have a new tool to help, thanks to a scheme from the Ministries of Education and Health.
Mana Ake is currently in a co-designing phase in Northland and once implemented will provide early intervention to promote wellbeing and mental health support for 21,000 primary and intermediate aged tamariki across 141 schools in Te Tai Tokerau.
The Mana Ake contract for Te Tai Tokerau sits within the Northland DHB. However, Mana Ake is a collaborative project between Northland DHB, Ministry of Health, Ministry of Education, working with schools, Iwi and local NGOs.
The aim is to help enhance resilience, wairua and mana so they are "stronger for tomorrow".
Mana Ake NDHB Project Lead Ant Backhouse said the project was aimed to make a huge difference by providing and increasing early intervention and support systems available rather than waiting for high and complex needs to develop.
"As we have heard from the surveys we are doing in the community, we know the accessibility to services is oversubscribed, long waiting list, complex criteria to get in, typically waiting for the problems to develop until the kids are getting the support.
"The solution is to provide more funding in the front end to cut off the supply to the higher complex needs area by having a lot more preventative and early support intervention, so we can create less demand on the other end."
The initiative strongly aligned with the recommendations made in He Ara Oranga: Report of the Government Inquiry into Mental Health and Addiction (He Ara Oranga) to better equip teachers, schools and communities to respond to the wellbeing needs of Tamariki, support Tamariki to build resilience and coping strategies and to increase access to early intervention supports.
Largely, targeted at children aged 5-12 (Years 1-8 of school) in schools across the region, the service would also provide integrated support to whānau, teachers and schools.
Mana Ake sought to provide holistic support through direct support to children experiencing social, emotional or behavioural challenges; clarification of local support pathways, making it easier for schools, teachers and whānau to access support when and where they need it; support for schools to make improvements to the school environment using the whole of school and classroom wellbeing programmes and wellbeing promotion; and service sector improvements by providing greater collaboration across health, education and social sector partners in the provision of support.
Secondary Principals Association in New Zealand Northland representative and Tikipunga High School principal Alec Solomon said Te Tai Tokerau was blessed with this kaupapa which was co-designed to meet the local needs.
Soloman said he was excited about the project because Mana Ake was practice-based and not a programme.
"Programmes have always worried me because they can be very prescriptive and they normally run through a time-frame, which usually suits an external agency's timeline.
"Whereas practices can be embedded to really support our students. Practices can be sustainable and ongoing.
"We have never had the ability for cross-sector cooperation and collaboration to sit down and locally device things to meet local needs.
"The need is established from the local communities, which is the real strength. It allows us to have practices that are designed specifically to try and support any obstacles in the local community.
"We are not doing 'one size fits all'."
Mana Ake was implemented across 220 schools serving 56,000 year 1-8 students in the Canterbury region in 2018 where they delivered wellbeing support, worked with tamariki and whānau at school or in the community, and connected whānau and teachers with resources that enhance wellbeing.
Mana Ake NDHB project lead Backhouse said Te Tai Tokerau was a different community and would have slightly different needs when compared to the Canterbury model.
"We have been given a scope to co-design with the community to work out what best fits our needs. Obviously, there is a lot of learning that can come from the Canterbury model, but whether it will look the same or how it will roll out is yet to be determined. It is a part of this co-design project."
NDHB had not been provided with any indication of how much funding was available yet.
Backhouse said the Ministry of Health had asked to co-design a service based on the needs and funding would be allocated on that basis.
Once a service delivery plan was submitted to Government in November 2021 and funding approved, Backhouse anticipated they would be able to start making some services available from the start of the 2022 school year, and rolling out services to all schools across 2022.
"Having a phased rollout throughout 2022 allows for the prioritisation of schools based on need and readiness, and provides time for the development of processes and the hiring and training of staff.
"Mental health and wellbeing are a large area of focus at the moment and we know there is so much more going on in and around the worlds of our tamariki, such as social media, online world, along with whanau-related problems such as poverty, family stress, separation and grief, that it just seems there is a lot more need for our kids to be resilient in the current world.
"I'd say that is the driving need for Mana Ake."
This week is Mental Health Awareness Week and the theme is 'Take Time to Kōrero'. It runs from today to October 3. For information about the week go to mhaw.nz.