Frank Oberklaid

Professor Frank Oberklaid AM was the Foundation Director of the Centre for Community Child Health at The Royal Children's Hospital Melbourne. He is currently Co-Group Leader of Child Health Policy, Equity and Translation at the Murdoch Children's Research Institute. a. He has written 2 books and over 150 papers in scientific journals. Frank has long standing clinical, research and policy interests in children’s health, development and wellbeing, and has chaired or been a member of numerous expert working groups at a state, national and international level, as well as being a consultant for the World Health Organisation and UNICEF Most recently he was co-chair of the National Child Mental Health and Wellbeing Strategy which outlines a detailed policy and service framework for child mental health in Australia. Frank’s work has been recognised by a number of prestigious awards, and he has been the recipient of invited lectureships and visiting professor appointments in over 20 countries.

Supporting wellbeing and ensuring inclusion: An emerging paradigm shift in our approach to children’s mental health and wellbeing.

In the past we have approached children’s mental health through the adult perspective of ‘diagnose and treat;’ that is we assess children with behavioural and emotional concerns to determine whether they meet the criteria for a diagnosis, and then select intervention based on the diagnosis. Often educators refer outside the school to an ‘expert’ – a mental health professional such as a psychologist, paediatrician or psychiatrist – to make the diagnosis. It is suggested that this approach is both unsustainable and does many children a disservice - it is the antithesis of inclusion. Major challenges of access and equity mean that many children do not receive the support they need, and opportunities for early intervention are lost. Furthermore, this model disempowers educators who defer to experts rather than utilise their own knowledge, experience and familiarity with the child and family. Instead, we are beginning to see a very different model emerging – a more holistic approach to children’s concerns, moving away from diagnosing deficits to a functional approach that respects a child’s individuality and assesses strengths as well as deficits, a recognition of the educator as the expert, a different language that acknowledges the dynamic nature of children’s development, and a whole school approach to supporting wellbeing and inclusion.