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Psychology students cut waiting times

by Geraldine Hinter

CLINICAL ASSESSMENT: Colby Pearce (left) discussing results with Amber OwenMany children and teenagers referred for psychological assessment through Families SA (FSA) in Adelaide’s northern suburbs have had waiting times cut from about 18 months to less than two months, thanks to the introduction of clinical assessments conducted by students from UniSA’s School of Psychology.

Clinical psychologist Colby Pearce negotiated with FSA to allow the final-year students to perform psychological assessments of children who had been removed from their carers after having been abused, neglected or both, and placed in foster care under the guardianship of the Minister for Families and Communities.

The initiative significantly reduces FSA’s chronic need for services and enables students to gain valuable work experience at the same time.

FSA fully funded the clinic which operates within FSA’s Salisbury office and is managed by Pearce, who supervises the students.

The clinic is the second of its kind and follows the successful Northern Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services clinic, where UniSA psychology and social work students have helped to reduce waiting times for assessment from 80 weeks to 26 weeks.

Since February, the new clinic has taken on a significant amount of assessment work, with nine students conducting assessments. Four of those students are to take up positions in early December within FSA.

Pearce says the clinic is contracted to conduct 80 assessments a year for FSA.

"We accepted 80 referrals and completed them within the first eight months," he says.

"The students are required to conduct at least 10 psychological assessments of children during their placement, starting with baseline type assessments and then progressing to a full range of assessment work."

All children, who range in age from 0 to 17 years, under the guardianship of the Minister, undergo an assessment of their psycho-educational state, emotional functioning and the conditions under which they were removed. This enables decisions to be made concerning foster care arrangements, and whether the children should stay in foster care or return to their families.

With competing priorities for employed psychologists within Families SA, non-critical assessments tended to be put to one side.

The final-year students consult with the children, their foster parents and parents, as well as teachers and other involved professionals.

"FSA tries to help parents and their children have the best possible chance of being reunited," Pearce says.

"Some of the best students I’ve ever supervised have come through the clinic this year and I’ve seen very good quality work. They have undertaken extra training to be able to deal with families with multiple problems and their effect on children’s development, which prepares them for the kind of work that they do in the clinic."

The success of the two clinics, along with the Playford Clinic, which provides student physiotherapy and podiatry services, has been acknowledged by the University. Members of the northern Adelaide student clinics team, who were responsible for developing student placements in all three clinics in northern Adelaide, were named the team winner of UniSA’s 2006 Equity Awards last month for their innovative approach and commitment to working in new ways that contribute to social equity.