Young people from Tamworth and Sydney’s Bankstown region who’ve attempted suicide, had suicidal thoughts or engaged in significant self-harm can now turn to a dedicated
Youth Aftercare Pilot support service known as
i.am run by wellbeing specialists New Horizons.
It doubles the number of sites engaged with the
Towards Zero Suicide initiative, joining Blacktown and Coffs Harbour as part of the state/federal co-funded trial. Tamworth and Sydney’s south-west were both identified as areas of high need, based on Emergency Department presentations and other data, along with the uniquely different pressures faced by young people in rural and metropolitan areas.
The trial program benefits from a rigorous co-design process, and many of the learnings from the established sites have been adopted at Tamworth and Bankstown to rapidly embed the services, while enhancing consistency in data collection. At the same time, each centre also has a slightly distinctive feel and a degree of flexibility that reflects the staff, the local champions and the community connections.
As a non-clinical mental wellbeing program, young people don’t require a formal diagnosis to gain access – referrals can come via a family member, from the young person, from a community service, from a school, or more. They can attend the centre as required or arrange for outreach support if preferred, whether it be a park, a cafe, school, or home. It is all about building rapport and trust between the child or young person and support worker.
“We’re seeing an enormous amount of enthusiastic engagement from other services and really positive feedback from young people from the very beginning,” says Luke Buckley, Chief Customer Service Officer at New Horizons, the community managed organisation who provides the Youth Aftercare Pilot program. “Young people and their families are going, ‘Wow, this is something really special. This is something we haven’t seen before. And we think this will really meet a need’.”
The initiative complements existing services and other Towards Zero Suicides programs being run in the same regions but is uniquely targeted, with no lower age limit and an upper range of around 25. The aim is to provide developmentally appropriate support to help young people as early as possible, when levels of distress and concern arise, as opposed to the trajectory becoming worse over time.
New Horizons hit the ground running in Tamworth late last year, opening an i.am office in the city’s main street and completing staff recruitment by early January. It has since received more than 60 referrals and currently has 30-plus active families. Team leader Megan Newman has also done a considerable amount of work introducing and promoting the program through local networks.
“We were doing two or three different presentations a week, just to make sure people know we’re here. So, that includes services like CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services), headspace, the Emergency Department, school counsellors, HealthWISE and Tamworth Local Youth Council,” Megan says. “They were very excited to hear how the program worked and we’ve done really well with referrals ... We even had a local GP who found us online, and they’ve provided several referrals.”
When a young person first engages, an i.am Youth Champion sits down with them to discuss their issues, identify any goals they may have, and introduce personal strategies, resources and potential additional support options: “People here have been through droughts, bushfires and things like that with their families and there’s the added component of COVID isolation, but one thing we’re seeing from school-aged young people is that bullying is a major component,” Megan explains.
“That’s a challenging one, which comes down to building resilience and giving them the strength to feel they don’t have to react or listen to what’s being said. At the same time we can promote the things that makes them feel good about themselves, that they know they’re good at.
“We’ve had some amazing feedback from both the client and parents. Parents have said they wouldn’t know what they would’ve done without the support. And we often check in with the young person to see if there’s anything we could do differently, because it’s about them, it’s not about us.
“Also, I’d just add to that the support that we’ve had here in Tamworth from the Local Health District has been amazing.”
The i.am project was a genuine co-production from the outset, with community, relevant peak bodies and youth reference groups enlisted to focus on positive outcomes and elevate the conversation around suicide prevention. The conception of branding and identity was part of that process.
Claire Van Heyningen, General Manager - Enterprise Recognition and Presence for New Horizons, says the goal was to create something quite different from the normal medicalised experience and more reaffirming for the individual.
“This is more of a situation where people can take control of their experience, and so ‘i.am’ is purposely left open for them to complete the sentence,” Claire says. “So, today I am confused, today I am in control, I am human, I am me.
“We felt that having a brand that young people wanted to connect with was really important as well. So we purposely tried to make it feel quite modern and contemporary, and it can stand out irrespective of the sector it’s in.”
Youth After Pilot is a NSW Heath Towards Zero Suicides initiative.