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Source: New Zealand Labour Party

Soon, more kids in Aotearoa will have access to the in-school mental health support that has boosted the resilience of tamariki and whānau in Canterbury.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, Health Minister Andrew Little, and Associate Education Minister Jan Tinetti today announced the continuation and expansion of Mana Ake, an in-school programme of mental health and wellbeing support that has reached thousands of kids across Canterbury (including Kaikōura).

We’re taking a transformational approach to mental health, aiming not only to provide care and support for those who need it, but also to build mental wellbeing awareness and literacy. Where better to start than with our tamariki?

We want kids to know it’s OK to ask for help – and help is there when they need it. And we want to work with them to build the skills to manage when the going gets tough. Integrating mental health into schools, to ensure every primary and intermediate child has access to dedicated mental health professionals, has the potential to cement a lifelong foundation for wellbeing and resilience.

In 2018, Mana Ake began to be rolled out in primary and intermediate schools across Canterbury, in the wake of the Christchurch and Kaikōura earthquakes. Kaimahi – psychologists, social workers, counsellors, teachers, and youth workers – have now supported over 7,000 tamariki and their whānau, helping them learn to cope with change and challenges, manage emotions, build positive relationships, and overcome grief and loss.

Early findings suggest that the programme has helped to improve networks between providers, consistency in mental health services across schools, and access to wellbeing support. Early prevention and intervention are crucial tools in improving mental wellbeing – and this has been reflected in the positive impact of Mana Ake on the lives of tamariki and whānau in Canterbury.

We’re now in year one of the five-year national Mana Ake expansion plan we committed to in last year’s election. With the nationwide expansion – set to begin in five more DHB areas: Counties Manukau, Northland, Bay of Plenty, Lakes, and West Coast – the Government is not implementing a one-off response to traumatic events, but making an enduring commitment to ensuring kids have the support they need.

In doing so, we work towards our goal of making Aotearoa the best place in the world to be a child.

Mental health is a complex issue, and Mana Ake can’t simply be cut and pasted from Canterbury to the rest of New Zealand. Its services must be tailored to fit the local context.

As a result, we’ve built in a period of co-design, during which DHBs will collaborate with iwi, Ministry of Education regional offices, schools, and local health and social service providers to create the best programme possible for each district. This process will be informed by the key learnings from the Canterbury rollout, and by national and international evidence on best practice.

The core components of the existing Mana Ake initiative won’t change. These involve clear connections between education and mental health providers, whole-of-classroom wellbeing programmes, individual and group work for kids who need extra support, and close links to whānau. These keystones ensure that Mana Ake empowers those closest to kids to identify and respond to wellbeing needs.

In providing kids across Aotearoa with access to these services, we take further steps toward the goals laid out in our 2019 Budget, which included a $455 million investment to expand access to and choice of mental health and addiction services. 

We’re in the early stages, but can already see results of this investment. With more than 178 primary health clinics staffed by dedicated mental health providers, as many as 10,000 sessions per month are being held through these services. We’ve increased access to addiction support, boosted crisis services, and developed initiatives to prevent suicide and support those bereaved.

Mana Ake is a transformative model that – in tandem with rangatahi-focused initiatives like nationwide funding for Rainbow youth wellbeing services, Youthline support, and grants for Māori students of mental health – can grow our mental health literacy from the ground up.

With this exciting expansion, we build the capacity of our tamariki to care for themselves and to care for others. We provide them with tools to maintain their wellbeing. We strengthen our whānau and communities. And we create space for discussion and understanding.

MIL OSI