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History of the Program

 


The Exploring Together Program was developed in the late 1980’s at the Austin Hospital outpatient unit for Child, Adolescent and Family Psychiatry under the leadership of Dr Lyn Littlefield. Pre and post questionnaires were administered to the parents and teachers of the children participating in Exploring Together, and the Program was found to be effective at improving the behaviour of these children. Follow up questionnaires at 6 and 12 months indicated that the improvements were maintained over time. These behaviour changes were particularly significant in that, for the majority of children, the changes indicated a move from a clinical range of behaviour problems (top 2% of the population) into the behaviour range of the normal population. This change has very positive implications for the long-term mental health and well-being of these children and their families.

From the Clinic to the Community.

On the strength of these results, Dr Littlefield, (then lecturing in the School of Psychology at La Trobe University), was approached by a community organisation, Melbourne Citymission, to take this clinic-based Program into the community. This enabled the Program to be accessed at an earlier level of intervention and by more families. This partnership was supported through funds from the William Buckland Foundation. For three years, professionals throughout Victoria (as well as some from Perth Citymission) were trained via 10-week demonstration Programs and 2 day workshops at La Trobe University to enable them to conduct the Programs in their own communities. Personnel support, ongoing consultation and Program evaluation was also provided to those who undertook training. The programs were mainly conducted in disadvantaged areas of Melbourne and rural Victoria, including some families from non-English speaking backgrounds (NESB).
During the three-year community implementation of Exploring Together, the Programs were independently evaluated by Sheryll Hemphill as part of her Ph.D. The results of the evaluation showed that the Program was successful at bringing about statistically significant improvements in a number of areas including the children’s behaviour (delinquent and aggressive behaviour, attention and social problems, and anxious/depressed behaviour), parenting skills, parent-child interaction, and parent’s characteristics. Furthermore, parents and children reported high levels of satisfaction with the Program.
At the end of this grant, the Exploring Together Program became self-sufficient and continued to offer training and consultation to professionals. In 1993, the Exploring Together Program received a commendation for the Australian Violence Prevention Award. The Program also received the Robin Winkler Award for Community Psychology awarded to Lyn Littlefield from the Australian Psychological Society.

A Program for Adolescents

In 1996, the Program received a 12-month grant from Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS) Innovative Projects to develop the Program for use with adolescents. Once more, a manual was produced and professionals throughout Victoria were trained to conduct Programs for adolescents in their own communities. The Program was later awarded an Australian & New Zealand Mental Health Services Award for ‘innovation and excellence’.

A National Program

In 1998, the Exploring Together Program received a Commonwealth Grant under the Youth Suicide Prevention Program - Programs for Parents. This grant enabled professionals throughout urban and rural Australia to be trained in the Primary school Program. Over 400 people, drawn from every state and territory, took advantage of this offer.
A total of 149 families throughout Australia participated in an evaluation of programs run by these trained leaders. Measures were completed by participating parents, children, and teachers of the children included in the groups. Statistically significant improvements were reported in a number of areas including the children’s behaviour, and some parenting skills. The reported changes in the children’s behaviour included decreases in children’s anxiety/depression, delinquent and aggressive behaviour, withdrawn behaviour, somatic problems and social problems both at home and at school, and improvement in children’s overall self-concept.
Changes in parent measures included a significant reduction in the dysfunctional parenting practices of overreactivity and verbosity. The vast majority of the parents reported a positive overall feeling about the program and were satisfied with their child’s progress. The children reported similar positive impressions of the 10-week Exploring Together Program. In general, the majority of children liked coming to the group and felt that the group helped them. These results confirmed, once again, the effectiveness of the Program as well as the effectiveness of the 2-day workshops with follow-up phone consultation as a way of training program leaders to run successful and effective Programs.

A Program for preschoolers…

In 1999, the Exploring Together Program received another grant from the William Buckland Foundation. Through this grant, the Exploring Together Program for Preschool children and their families was trialed and evaluated. A comprehensive manual was produced, and over 100 professionals throughout Victoria were trained to run the Program.
Results of an evaluation of the Preschool Programs run by newly trained leaders echoed previous findings. In particular, it was found that the presence and intensity of children’s problem behaviour moved from the clinical to normal range, parental satisfaction increased and dysfunctional parenting practices decreased, and participants reported being highly satisfied with the program and its perceived usefulness in assisting with the child’s and family’s problems.

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