Highlights in child mental health research: December 2020

Prepared by AIFS, Australia, December 2020

Resource Summary

The monthly research summary provides a selection of recently released papers, systematic reviews, and meta-analyses related to infant and child mental health.

Each summary includes an introductory overview of the content for the month, followed by a list of selected articles. Each article is accompanied by a brief synopsis which presents the key messages and highlights.  Links to abstracts, full-text articles and related resources, where available, are provided.

What’s new this month in child mental health research?

This month’s highlights include:

This Australian study aimed to include the voices of preschool children in research on child wellbeing indicators through exploring their views on their wellbeing (Fane et al., 2020). Children’s voices revealed two new additional indicators of child wellbeing that have yet to be explored. These indicators were “opportunities for play” and “young children’s agency” (Fane et al., p. 1893).

This study investigated positive psychological strengths (i.e., hope, efficacy, resilience, and optimism) in 456 Australian students (Finch, Farrell, & Waters, 2020). Each strength was associated with decreased anxiety symptoms, decreased depressive symptoms, and increased levels of flourishing – and the combination of these strengths was a stronger predictor of these positive outcomes than individual strengths alone.

Using a series of surveys with child development experts, this study developed a shared definition (i.e., “a consensus view”) of child resilience in relation to young Australian children (Avdagic et al., 2020, p. 2066). The study was part of the Children’s Resilience Research Project, which produced a Practice Guide to assist practitioners with supporting children’s resilience. The guide includes daily strategies and interventions.

This review of 15 studies (with 1,668 participants) found that online parenting interventions were effective in reducing children’s behaviour problems (when compared with being on a waitlist) (Florean et al., 2020). The interventions were also effective for improving parenting self-efficacy, parenting behaviours, and parental distress levels.


Finally, the Mental Health Commission has released the draft of the new National Children’s Mental Health and Wellbeing Strategy. The strategy outlines what is needed for systems of care to effectively promote and support child wellbeing and mental health. It also seeks to develop a shared understanding of the roles that families, services, educators, and communities have in supporting child wellbeing.

Coronavirus (COVID-19) and children: Resources, research, and reports

Recently released journal articles on COVID-19 include:

Informed by a rapid review of the research literature, this review identified eight groups of children and young people considered to be particularly vulnerable to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and its associated disruptions. The review also discusses the actions that could be taken by healthcare professionals and policymakers to help lessen this vulnerability and inequity, and to promote health and wellbeing.

This article discusses the benefits and challenges of using telemental health to deliver trauma treatment to children and families in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. It offers considerations for provision of services, development of programs, and policy (both during and post-pandemic).

This study describes and compares the immediate mental health changes (i.e., psychological symptoms and behavioural changes) associated with the early stage of COVID-19 quarantine in three European countries with different restriction levels. Practice implications and recommendations are discussed.


UNICEF and the Australian Research Alliance for Children and Youth (ARACY) have also launched the Australian Children and Young People’s Knowledge Acceleration Hub. The Hub seeks to make the latest research about the impacts of COVID-19 on Australian children accessible to decision-makers to inform practice and policy responses. It collates the latest available scientific evidence and is a publicly available resource.

Views of Australian pre-schoolers on their own wellbeing: Implications for wellbeing indicators

Preschool aged children’s accounts of their own wellbeing: Are current wellbeing indicators applicable to young children? (Australia)

Authors: Fane, J., MacDougall, C., Jovanovic, J., Redmond, G., & Gibbs, L.

Journal: Child Indicators Research


  • While increasing efforts have been made to include the perspectives of children in research about their wellbeing, the voices of young children in particular remain largely missing.
  • This Australian study sought to include the voices of preschool children in research on child wellbeing indicators through exploring their views on their own wellbeing.
  • Children’s understandings and experiences of their own well-being were investigated. Their accounts were also compared to child wellbeing frameworks derived by adults.
  • 78 young Australian children (aged 3 to 5 years) participated in the study. Children were from eight different early childhood education and care services.
  • Key findings included:
    • The accounts of young children provided additional support for key wellbeing indicators contained in current adult derived child wellbeing frameworks.
    • Children’s voices revealed two additional new indicators of child wellbeing that have yet to be explored. These indicators were:
      • 1. Play opportunities – Having opportunities for play was identified as an indicator of wellbeing across all child focus groups. This indicator was also more present in children’s accounts and discussions than any of the other indicators.
      • 2. Agency of young children – While the concept of agency was identified as a well-being indicator by young children, their experiences and understandings of agency were varied with subtle differences.
  • While the study supports existing frameworks that have been used to measure and assess child wellbeing, it also suggests that there are additional child-identified indicators that need further research (i.e., “opportunities for play and young children’s agency”) (p. 1893). These indicators will be of interest to professionals in public health, education, and policy who aim to improve children’s wellbeing
  • This research further supports the capacity of young children to make important and valuable contributions to knowledge and research about child mental health. It also supports practices and policies in relation to children and families that are “more meaningful, holistic, and sensitive to the lived experiences of children” (p. 1915).
  • Importantly, including children also upholds their right toactively and meaningfully participate in discussions and decisions about their own lives.


Read the Abstract

Psychological strengths that promote wellbeing in Australian children

Searching for the HERO in youth: Does psychological capital (PsyCap) predict mental health symptoms and subjective wellbeing in Australian school-aged children and adolescents? (Australia)

Authors: Finch, J., Farrell, L.J., & Waters, A.M.

Journal: Child Psychiatry and Human


  • Emerging, early research studies have found a positive association between psychological capital (PsyCap) and child wellbeing. In the current study, psychological capital (PsyCap) was defined as “positive psychological resources [i.e., strengths] of hope, efficacy, resilience, and optimism (HERO)” (p. 1025).
  • To the researchers’ knowledge, the current study is the first to explore these positive psychological resources (i.e., PsyCap-HERO) in school-aged Australian children, including the associations of these resources with self-reported wellbeing and mental health problems.
  • 456 Australian students (aged 9 to 14 years old) participated in an online survey. The survey was used to measure positive psychological resources, as well as levels of anxiety, depression, and
  • Key findings included:
    • Each of the HERO constructs (i.e., hope, efficacy, resilience, optimism) was significantly associated with decreased anxiety symptoms, decreased depressive symptoms, and increased levels of flourishing.
    • “The combination of HERO constructs was shown to be a stronger predictor of increased levels of child flourishing, and decreased levels of anxiety and depression symptoms, than individual HERO constructs” (p. 1025).
  • These findings are relevant to practitioners, education staff, researchers, and policy makers; they suggest that further exploring and identifying positive psychological resources in children may help to support their wellbeing and buffer against mental health problems.
  • At the time of publication, the researchers were not aware of any evidence-based programs in schools that target PsyCap HERO. They suggest that future research that explores the development of such interventions (e.g., for clinical, school or health settings) would be valuable.


Read the free full-text here

Building an understanding of what is meant by ‘resilience’ in young Australian children

Resilience in young children: A Delphi study to reach consensus on definitions, measurement and interventions to build resilience (Australia)

Authors: Avdagic, E., Wade, C., McDonald, M., McCormack, D., Dakin, P., Macvean, M., Hayes, L., & Phan, T.

Journal: Early Child Development & Care


  • There are different views on how to define resilience, as well as how to best measure and support it amongst children. This inconsistency can create challenges for practitioners, services, researchers, and interventions that seek to support child wellbeing.
  • This study aimed to support these challenges through developing a shared definition and understanding (i.e., “a consensus view”) of child resilience in relation to young children in Australia (p. 2066). The researchers sought to achieve this through reaching a consensus among a panel of expert professionals. The study also aimed to reach an expert panel consensus on the measurement of child resilience and resilience interventions.
  • The study was part of the larger Children’s Resilience Research Project, which resulted in a Practice Guide that aims to help practitioners to promote child resilience. The guide outlines daily strategies and interventions to help build resilience.
  • Researchers used a Delphi method, which consisted of 32 child development experts responding to three rounds of surveys. Experts included psychologists, academics, and paediatricians.
  • Key study findings included:
    • Child resilience was defined as a “process whereby a child develops the capacity to adapt when experiencing adversity, although the experience of adversity is not essential to developing resilience” (p. 2066).
    • The experts agreed that: multiple factors determine a child’s resilience (including child, family, and community factors), resilience can be learned (i.e., it is not fixed), and resilience can increase protection against future mental health problems.
    • There was a lack of agreement amongst experts about the measurement of child resilience, which likely reflects the wide range of measurement approaches that exist.
    • Experts agreed that interventions that promote child resilience should target both the child and their environment, be specific to a child’s stage of development, and emphasise intervention during transition periods (e.g., school transition).
  • The findings of this study (and the associated Practice Guide on how to promote the resilience of Australian children) will be of interest to practitioners, education staff, and organisations who work with children and families.
  • The Practice Guide is designed for practitioners who work in a range of settings, including early childhood education/care, primary schools, welfare, health, and mental health.


Read the Abstract

Access the Practice Guide on the Beyond Blue website

Effectiveness of online parenting programs in reducing child behaviour problems

The efficacy of internet-based parenting programs for children and adolescents with behavior Problems: A meta-analysis of randomised clinical trials

Authors: Florean, I.S., Dobrean, A., Păsărelu, C.R., Georgescu, R.D., & Milea, I.

Journal: Clinical Child & Family Psychology Review


  • This systematic review and meta-analysis explored whether online parenting interventions are effective in reducing children’s behaviour problems.
  • The review also investigated whether these interventions improve parent outcomes, including parenting behaviours (e.g., parenting strategies), parenting self-efficacy (i.e., parental beliefs in their own ability to successfully manage or perform the parentingrole and parenting tasks), and parental levels of distress.
  • Data from 15 studies (with a total of 1,668 participants) was analysed. Studies were included if children were under age 18 years of age.
  • Online interventions were delivered via a mobile/tablet application or a computer. Both practitioner-administered and self-directed interventions were included.
  • Key findings included:
    • Online parenting interventions were effective in reducing children’s behavior problems (when compared with participants on a waitlist). They were also effective for improving parenting self-efficacy, parenting behaviours, and parental distress levels.
    • When online parenting interventions were compared to “classically delivered” parenting interventions (e.g., face-to-face interventions), there was no difference in effectiveness. That is, the interventions were found to be “equally effective” (p. 523).
  • Given that online parenting interventions hold promise for improving child behaviour problems and parental outcomes, these programs may present a valuable opportunity for increasing access to mental health support (particularly behaviour support) for children and families. These findings are particularly relevant for practitioners and organisations who support families of children with behaviour difficulties.


Read the Abstract

Up Next: Coronavirus (COVID-19) and children: Resources, research, and reports

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