More parent support needed to tackle rising child and adolescent mental health issues

24 February 2022
Image: Unsplash.


Parents need quicker and better access to evidence-based parenting support programs to address rising adolescent mental health problems, a group of high-profile Australian parenting researchers have found.

Leading child protection expert Daryl Higgins, director of ACU’s Institute of Child Protection Studies, is one of the key researchers behind the Parenting and Family Research Alliance (PAFRA), a collaboration of Australian researchers formed to increase the reach of such support programs both here and overseas.

In a paper, published in the journal Child Psychiatry and Human Development, PAFRA researchers outlined ways to increase the reach and impact of such programs.

Research has shown that evidence-based parenting support programs are effective at addressing several high priority mental health, physical health, and social problems.

“The majority of mental health problems have their origins in childhood and adolescence, and it is well documented that investing in the mental health of future generations has long-term benefits for all aspects of society,” Professor Higgins said.

“Few policies adequately support the use of evidence-based parenting supports to improve the lives of parents and children, and to reduce child and youth mental health disorders. This needs to change.”

The myriad challenges parents, carers, families, and children have faced during the pandemic has undermined positive, skilful, and confident parenting. Positive interactions between parents and their children lay the foundations for a range of child outcomes, including healthy brain development, language development, communication, cognitive development, and capacity for self-regulation.

Evidence-based parenting support programs can give parents and carers knowledge and skills. Parents report becoming more confident in raising their children and more effective at teaching them skills to be successful in life. Children also experience greater wellbeing, learn to better handle stressful events, experience fewer mental health problems, and perform better at school.

Yet such programs continue to remain out of reach for many families – studies show only 35 per cent of parents with a child needing help for an emotional or behavioural problem reported having their needs fully met.

Lead author Dr Frances Doyle from Western Sydney University said it was vital for research efforts and policies to support parents and caregivers by ensuring evidence-based parenting programs were widely accessible and readily available.

“Parents need to be able to get support and be able to access to these programs in ways that are non-stigmatising,” Dr Doyle said. “Embedding evidence-based support in places where families already engage, such as schools or the healthcare system, is a good way to encourage them to seek support for themselves and their children.”

Other ways to enable better access for parents and carers include:

  • offering services in a range of community settings including healthcare, childcare, and schools
  • sharing positive parenting messages, programs, and services via mainstream and social media
  • offering in-person, telehealth, and online services
  • tailoring for Indigenous parents, culturally and linguistically diverse, LGBTIQ+, fathers, and parents of children with developmental disabilities in rural and remote areas
  • offering low intensity support to all parents, and increase intensity where needed
  • building capacity and infrastructure through workforce tertiary level training, research, and funding.


With thanks to ACU.


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