NSW is running a trial that gives parents in regional and rural areas access to specialised support services for severe behavioural problems in young children.

The parent training program is delivered via the internet and aims to give access to specialist mental health therapy for families in remote areas.

Clinical psychologists will use a live video link to coach parents as they play with their children, then give support based on the interactions and behaviour they have witnessed.

“This is the first time that parents who don’t have easy access to specialist help in their community can receive live video-based coaching in parenting strategies while the parent and child are playing,” says Dr Jane Kohlhoff, from UNSW Medicine’s School of Psychiatry.

The project employs the play-based program, Parent Child Interaction Therapy (PCIT), which Dr Kohlhoff says is an evidence-based method of treating consistent and disruptive behaviour in children aged 2 to 4.

The PCIT therapy program will provide up to 6 to 12 sessions over a three month period, in which clinicians follow the same principles as when working with families in-person, coaching the parent through a one-way mirror while the parent and child play.

The aim of PCIT is to improve the child’s behaviour by strengthening the parent-child relationship and teaching positive limit-setting strategies.

Helping to mitigate behaviour problems early is key in improving family dynamics, preventing chronic problems emerging later in life, says Dr Kohlhoff.

“The whole program in based on the knowledge that children need warmth and sensitivity, combined with positive discipline,” she said.

“This type of access to specialist services is especially crucial for parents who are geographically isolated in rural towns or farms. There shouldn’t be stigma for parenting help, but there often is. This program allows parents to access support from a psychologist in their home and should help ease the burden on other mental health services.”

Dr Kohlhoff and her team intend to treat up to 50 families this year, with those already in the program showing a significant improvement in outcomes.

More information is available here.