Safe space offered to help children

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It has long been acknowledged that mental illness and addiction affect not only those who have it but also their loved ones, and a new programme in Oamaru for children has been established to address that.

Children Understanding Mental Illness and Addiction is a programme for children of primary school age to learn coping strategies and express their feelings in a safe space.

The programme has been implemented by Able Southern Family Support, which supports families affected by mental illness or addiction, and is based at Community House in Thames St.

Able Oamaru family and whanau fieldworker Maria Buldain said initial plans were to run the course during terms 2 and 4 as an after-school programme, but because of the lockdown in term 2, it was decided it should be run as a school holiday programme instead.

“It’s a good way to introduce kids to talk about topics they normally won’t discuss with their parents,” Mrs Buldain said.

The children took part in activities which included painting rocks, dancing, blowing bubbles and visiting Whitestone City.

Because it ran as a condensed course, rather than an after-school programme, it was “really intense”.

“Kids are sharing with other kids, and can see other kids are in a similar situation. They all share their own coping strategies, which is good.”

It gave the children a chance to discuss their families and the people around them, and they also learned more about the topics of mental illness and addiction.

“It gives them the possibility to share and open up, to talk about their feelings.”

Mrs Buldain said many of the children would be in a position where they had to fend for themselves a bit more than other children, and so they were also taught self-care strategies, coping mechanisms, and came up with a safety plan, in case of emergencies.

The course was instrumental in helping the children develop a relationship with support workers.

“It’s important to build a connection with the kids so they feel comfortable to contact you if they need to.”

Able was a self-referral service, and so families could make contact and access support straight away without having to wait to “come through the system”. It could also refer to other services.

Mrs Buldain came to New Zealand from Uruguay 17 years ago, where she had worked in psychology. She spoke no English when she first arrived, and had been a volunteer with the Waitaki Multicultural Council for some years.

This job was a perfect combination of her background in psychology and social services, she said.

All Able services were free, confidential and field workers could come to you, Mrs Buldain said.

More information could be found at able.org.nz.