Since 1988, the Starlight Children’s Foundation (Starlight) has been delivering programs in partnership with health professionals to support children, young people and their families who are living with a serious illness or health condition. Starlight is the broadest reaching children’s charity in Australia, supporting children and teenagers with all types of serious illness, including mental health conditions.
Young people represent over 20% of admissions at some paediatric hospitals and typically have longer lengths of stay as survival rates for serious illnesses are increasing, however there are very few age‑appropriate programs specifically designed to meet their needs.
Livewire, Starlight’s adolescent program, was launched in 2012 and operates in six hospitals nationally. The program is delivered to both adolescent and mental health units, providing opportunities for young people to use their creativity and learn new skills through ward based activities, workshops and event nights.
In 2016, Livewire Facilitators provided over 2,000 workshops and made over 30,000 connections with young people. The program has been particularly welcomed in mental health units, where health professionals report it fosters social connections, provides much-needed diversion and promotes positive interactions.
In 2015, Starlight undertook a mixed methods evaluation of the Livewire program in partnership with the Royal Children’s Hospital (RCH). The evaluation included a literature review focused on the use of peer support based programs in mental health units; formal documentation of program deliverables; surveying Livewire facilitators about their experience of delivering the program; measuring satisfaction with the Livewire program provided at the RCH mental health unit and creation of a final report assessing how well the program meets the needs of young people receiving treatment in mental health units.
Overall the Livewire program is highly valued by young people and health professionals. The findings showed the program:
increased and facilitated social connections between young people,
lifted the mood of participants, and
built their self-esteem and self-efficacy.
In addition, it was reported that the program supports the work of health professionals, who recognise the positive impact it has on the young people attending the program. Both staff and participants have requested additional program hours.
 Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2012. A picture of Australia’s children 2012. Cat. no. PHE 167. Canberra: AIHW.
This article was kindly provided by Sarah Moeller, Research & Evaluation Manager for the Starlight Foundation.
The 2017 Australian Rural and Remote Mental Health Symposium will include keynote speakers, concurrent sessions and workshops that develop skills related specifically to the mental health needs of our rural and remote communities, and ways to effectively prepare mental health and other rural human service professionals to meet future challenges.