The Western Sydney team: Kalei, Maddie and Antonio.
In developing a new suicidality support service for children and young people, mental health specialists New Horizons and its partners have listened to, and learned from, the collective voice of lived experience.
Young people, carers and family members are informing all aspects of the pilot, including delivery and evaluation, through roles such as co-producer, co-facilitator or Youth Reference Group (YRG) member.
This bespoke, co-production approach sets the Youth Aftercare Pilot (YAP) apart from many other youth community-based programs and is destined to make the NSW Health Towards Zero Suicides initiative more personalised and engaging for its intended group.
“Essentially, this is a blank canvas and it’s up to us to co-design a model with young people and others who have lived experience,” Project Manager Li Zeng from New Horizons explained. “As an example, telehealth and e-health are the latest trends but most young people still said they prefer human contact. That’s why our model really values personal connection.”
YAP is being piloted in and around Blacktown in Western Sydney, Coffs Harbour/Nambucca Heads on the Mid-North Coast and Tamworth in Hunter New England. A new site in South Western Sydney will be established early next year as funding from the NSW Ministry of Health extends to mid-2023.
The primary focus is working directly with children and young people who have presented to Emergency Departments, been admitted to hospital or otherwise known to have had a suicide attempt, self-harm or suicidal ideation.
YAP’s age group is also unique, Li added. “Although it says youth in the title, it actually extends from 0 to 25. That’s a huge range, and different to many other service types in this space. Unfortunately there is a trend where kids as young as six start developing self-harming behaviour and engaging in suicide attempts.
“I haven’t found any suicide prevention or postvention service that’s designed to work with children this young.”Encouragingly, early evaluation reveals that young people who’ve participated in YAP’s conception have felt uplifted.
“I believe it is hugely beneficial. Those involved in the co-production found it not only gave them something positive to do with their experience, it gave them a sense of belonging,” Li said. “It gave them a purpose, it gave them hope, and also showed how resilient they really are. That’s very powerful.
“Over the next two years we’re hoping to develop a model that’s fully tested in different regions, which resonates with children and young people, and can then be implemented across NSW.”
Krystal Donovan and Rachel Geddes of the Youth Aftercare Pilot at Coffs Harbour.
Staff working at the Coffs Harbour coalface to develop the Youth Aftercare Pilot are all deeply committed to creating something unique and special, describing themselves as the “glue” binding young people, health services and the community.
“We’re not just people who’ve studied suicidality. We are people who have lived experience, or have family members with lived experience. That makes a big difference to how this program rolls out,” explained Melissa Butler, one of the New Horizons Children and Young People Champions involved with the co-design. “To help facilitate a young person’s healing is amazing,” she added.
Team Leader Krystal Donovan agreed: “Since taking on this role, I have never come across so many strong, resilient and highly motivated people. We’ve come ahead in leaps and bounds, thanks to all the brainstorming. This program will be so uplifting for the community.”
Rachel Geddes, as Children and Young People Champion, noted the willingness to adopt new approaches and fill gaps.
“Being a pilot, we can reinvent ourselves on the fly as the needs of young people change. We can hopefully build and adapt,” she said.
Krystal, a Gumbaynggirr woman raised in Nambucca Heads before moving to Coffs 20 years ago, has worked in the mental health sector for eight years. Engaging with the Youth Reference Group has been her highlight so far.
“They hold strong opinions and, personally, it has been a really good experience.
“As adults and specialists, we tend to over-think things sometimes. The group has been quite black-and-white in determining what works for them as young people. It results in a much simpler and inclusive approach. I also enjoy the fact that this will potentially break down barriers for the Indigenous community and also for the CALD (Culturally and Linguistically Diverse) and LGBTQI communities.”
Melissa has been a caseworker since relocating to Coffs Harbour two years ago from South Australia. She loves the diversity of her work.
“At the moment there’s no such thing as an average work day. Some days we can be furthering our skills with training, other days we might be connecting to country on a beach with a young person,” she said.
“The day is really based around the needs of the child or young person, and what growth and healing look like to them.”
Rachel, who has extensive background in mental health and youth work, enjoys building rapport and gaining trust with young people. She and Melissa also knocked on doors in Nambucca Heads recently to help increase awareness.
“There had been several suicide deaths in the region,” Rachel added. “So every service we visited welcomed us with open arms and expressed how valuable the support is.”
Youth Aftercare Pilot is a NSW Heath Towards Zero Suicides initiative.