VicChamps Project 2003-06

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VicChamps (2003-06) was a three-year project funded by Beyondblue's national depression initiative, VicHealth's Victorian Health Promotion Foundation and the Victorian Department of Human Services' Mental Health branch. The aim was to develop a model of best practice to meet the needs of children aged between 5-12 who have parents with a mental illness.

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Project Background

Children of parents with a mental illness are exposed to genetic and environmental risks and vulnerabilities. However this was first publically acknowledged in Australia through the Burdinkin report in 1993.

In 1994-95 three projects were funded through the new National Mental Health Strategy for children of parents with mental illness. These were:

  • IMPACT Project (NSW), a psychosocial peer support project for children
  • home based support project (NSW) for mothers with children 0 – 5 years
  • C.H.A.M.P. Project (VIC), a 2-year Commonwealth funded project out of which came the first CHAMPS peer support program

Since 1996 Champs peer support programs have continued albeit sporadically with some funding from organisations including the Variety Club, Rotary Clubs and Department of Human Services.

In 1997, Department of Human Services funded the Parents Project for one year. The aims of this project were:

  • to improve the mental health, parenting skills and confidence of mothers who had a serious mental illness in the outer eastern region
  • to improve the awareness of mental health professionals and their competency in working with these mothers who have a serious mental illness

Maroondah Hospital and Eastern Health mental health program's ongoing support of the work culminated in the development of the VicChamps Project.

VicChamps was conducted in partnership with Eastern Health Mental Health Program (eastern metropolitan region), Upper Murray Family Care (north east Victoria) and Charles Sturt University (Wagga Wagga). These sites are also conducting an extensive evaluation of this program. 


VicChamps Goals 

VicChamps aims were:

  • reduce stigma associated with mental illness
  • increase resilience and social connectedness in children who have a parent with mental illness
  • enhance community capacity to provide assistance to families where a parent has a mental illness by developing partnerships between sectors and services, peer support programs, workforce development and community education


VicChamps Objectives

VicChamps project met its goals through three key objectives, select to read:

  • (1) Provide peer support programs for children and parents
  • (2) Provide education in the community
  • (3) Enhance workforce and community capacity to identify, assess, support and refer at risk children

(1) Provide peer support programs for children and parents

  • activity based programs for children during school holidays and after school
  • peer support networks for parents, developed in conjunction with the children's programs

Evidence shows that peer support programs are both educational and supportive for parents and children through:

  • shared experience
  • provision of information
  • building peer connections and community connectedness 

(2) Provide education in the community 

Education was aimed at supporting families across the broader community who would access health, welfare and mental health services as well as recreational and leisure acitivities.

The provision of this education included the following approaches:  

  • primary school based education for children in grades 5 and 6 – using an existing, well developed and evaluated program called Supporting Kids In Primary Schools (SKIPS)
  • community wide education including seminars and forums 
  • pamphlets and posters
  • provision of online information through Champs websites, see Eastern Health Champs

(3) Enhance workforce and community capacity to identify, assess, support and refer at-risk children

Families where a parent has a mental illness often access or require the support of multiple service providers. It was identified that the capacity of these service providers needed to be enhanced to identify, assess, support and refer those at-risk children.

This objective was met through the following approaches:

  • Facilitating community network development
  • Professional development of service providers in health and welfare – using already developed material and presentations by consumers and carers  
  • Professional development of mental health clinicians - including the use of existing material which was regularly reviewed and input by consumers and carers
  • Consultation between agencies
  • Family care plans