Families in distress find solutions at UNSW

By Nicky Lancaster

By the time a family arrives at the Child Behavioural Research Clinic (CBRC) they know their family and child are in trouble.

The Child Behavioural Research Clinic at UNSW is an evidence based parent training program that evolved from research by Professor Mark Dadds and Professor Matt Sanders while at The University of Queensland. Since then, Professor Dadds has continued his research at UNSW focussing on families with children who suffer from severe behavioural disorders.

Collaborating with other leading child health groups such as Royal Far West and MH-Kids, a range of research projects are underway or planned that will disentangle the biological and environmental factors contributing to the development and maintenance of childhood mental health difficulties. These include: Conduct Disorder/Oppositional Defiant Disorder, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Anxiety/Depression, and Autism Spectrum Disorders.

Over the past 4- 5 years though, the need for effective treatment has become so great that the clinic is now serving 200-300 children per year. With recent support from St George Foundation, the CBRC is now in a position to allocate funding for research and build on their operations through the next year.

“Our program is designed to be 10 weeks long. We let the data drive what we do here. The rate at which we engage parents and see positive change is very high and we do it with very little support. Our success rate is 60% and we are one of the most successful clinics treating highly dysfunctional children in Australia,” Professor Dadds says. “If you look at the average child who is coming into our clinic, they are children with complex co-morbidities.”

The goal for Professor Dadds is to design a mental health program wherein mental health professionals can pinpoint exactly when to treat symptoms so that a child can live a life free of problems.

“We want to make fundamental progress in our understanding of what is going wrong. We are getting close on some of the genetic issues and how they translate into brain development,” he explains. “We now know some of the genetic vulnerabilities these children have and how the environment and the quality of the parenting changes the genetics – we didn’t know that 3 years ago.”

Professor Dadds and his team recently discovered that some of the children under his care with severe conduct problems, including low empathy and low emotion have a fundamental disorder – they do not recognise or look into the eyes or faces of other people. “My team noticed this basic problem through observing a very simple computer task. Out of this one single deficit the other complex problems grow.”

The research never stops and Professor Dadds and his team are continually working on improving treatment and results for children. “If you looked at the way these children were being dealt with in Australia 20-30 years ago it was just appalling,” he says.

But Professor Dadds is hopeful that with more funding progress will continue. He is certain that in the future treatment for children with mental health disorders will provide despairing parents with many more options for treating their distressed children.

If you would like to contact the Child Behavioural Research Clinic please call (02) 9385 2771 or email cbrc[at]psy.unsw.edu[dot]au

For more information on how to donate please contact Ms Keely Duffy, Development Manager UNSW Science on 9385 5218 or k.duffy[at]unsw.edu[dot]au

 

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