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Kookaburra Kids ‘Defence Kids’ mental health program

  • Written by Scott Morrison

More children of Australian veterans and Defence personnel will receive additional support thanks to a new $13.7 million investment in the successful Kookaburra Kids ‘Defence Kids’ mental health program.

This new investment comes as Kookaburra Kids celebrates its 20th year of providing services. It builds on our Government's investment of $2.1 million for a pilot of the Defence Kids program in 2016 and $7.7 million to expand the program in 2018.

The additional funding will see the program expanded to more regional areas: Wagga Wagga, Albury/Wodonga, the Mornington Peninsula, Bendigo, Ballarat, and Geelong.

For the first time, services will also be available for children in north and south Tasmania.

The Prime Minister said the Defence Kids program was making a massive difference to the lives of children of Defence families, and the funding would ensure it could reach even more kids and families.

“Being a kid can be tough enough, and there can be added challenges for kids from Defence and veteran families,” the Prime Minister said.

“Often, our Defence kids have to move away from friends, they change schools and they deal with a parent being away for extended periods of time or who may be facing mental health challenges.

“The Kookaburra Kids Defence Kids program helps kids to manage these challenges, and brings them together with others facing similar experiences.

“We want to give our Defence kids as much support as possible, and give our veterans and Defence members the confidence that their families are well looked after. The extension of this program will ensure just that.

“I also congratulate Kookaburra Kids on their 20th anniversary. From their start in the Shire, to now reaching out across the nation to help thousands more kids, it’s truly great work.”

Minister for Veterans’ Affairs and Defence Personnel Andrew Gee said the additional funding would grow the program across the regions and provide access to even more kids. 

“The Kookaburra Kids program has already had more than 4,300 engagements with children in the Defence and veteran community, and this significant additional investment will see more children reap the benefits,” Minister Gee said.

“Kids aged 8-18 years old can get involved by attending camps and activity days where they develop coping skills and resilience, building up their mental health while understanding their unique experience.  

“The program delivers tailored, evidence-based, age-appropriate education, prevention and early intervention mental health services. 

“Prevention is key in supporting our Defence kids and providing them with the help they need to thrive. I’m extremely supportive of anything that supports our Defence families.”

The funding will also see face-to-face services continue in all mainland capital cities as well as the regional centres of Townsville, the Hunter, Wollongong, Shoalhaven and the NSW South Coast.

To find out more about the Kookaburra Kids ‘Defence Kids’ program visit:

PRIME MINISTER: Well, thank you very much, Chris, and can I also - thank you, Buddy - can I thank you, mate, and everyone who's come together here today to celebrate the start of the 20-year acknowledgement of the wonderful work of what I remember as Camp K, as I was first introduced to it many, many years ago. And, of course, Kookaburra Kids.

Can, I can I acknowledge the Gadigal people, the land on which we meet, their Elders past and present. They had a pretty good view from here, as we can all see, and we want to acknowledge them.

Can I also acknowledge, importantly, as I always do, any veterans who are here with us today, and particularly when it comes to talking the Kookaburra Kids and the parents who are represented here today.

To Patricia, who you'll hear from in a second, to John and Lucy, who I've known forever. You may know them from such things as running Lifeline and the Mental Health Commission and so many other great works that they do. And but they are a fellow traveller. They're both fellow travellers when it comes to Kookaburra Kids as well. It’s been a passion of ours for a long time, and to all the others who are here today, the new Ambassadors we have - Belinda and Ben. To Allan Sparkes and Mark, who, as a Board Member, I’ve known for a long time. Haven’t caught up for some while, look forward to doing that a little later. But, of course, Peter Overton and Jessica Rowe, who can't be with us. I know what those sniffles start like, and I can tell you, it gets a bit worse than that, Pete. So take care, mate, and look after yourself in the days ahead.

Twenty years - you know, a lot can happen in 20 years. But when you look at what's happened with Kookaburra Kids, they really live up to that. It's been an extraordinary achievement. I know Dianne, Dianne introduced me to Camp K all those years ago back in the Shire. Took me down to the camps and and it was just such a compelling idea. I mean, so much of what is done in mental health support, and rightly, is to address the needs of those who are suffering with mental health challenges. But what everyone here understands today is that when mental illness strikes a family, strikes a community, it doesn't just affect those who are directly impacted through mental health. There are all of those who are around them - their kids, their family, their friends, their community, and to work through mental health and the challenge of it and become well doesn't just require the direct clinical support that is provided to the individual themselves. But it's healing and a support that is done through the whole family and the whole community.

And this was Dianne’s genius, and she could understand this better than most because she went through it herself. And that is so often the case. And to play, provide a place of safety, a place of respite, a place of renewal and refreshment, particularly for children. Young kids, as you say, Chris, can get together on their terms and their space, learn from each other, gain strength from each other. This was an amazing idea, and the way that it's been able to be put into practice so professionally, and we acknowledge Di, absolutely, but we acknowledge Pam as well, and through to the work you're doing now, Chris. This is an extraordinary organisation that just brings people into its orbit because it's such a passionate place, and what is being done is just so positive and people just want to be part of it.

I want to thank all of those who’ve supported Kookaburra Kids over these last 20 years. Those who’ve supported it financially, of course. But those who’ve supported it as volunteers, and we have many volunteers who are here today and other volunteers who have gone on to be staff, volunteers who have served in various governance roles within the organisation. At its heart, it's a volunteer organisation and it speaks to how the community responds to challenges and then the the professional and clinical and other supports that come around it only enables it to achieve a scale that we're really seeing achieved here with Kookaburra Kids.

It was a number of years ago, I was Treasurer at the time and we were dealing, of course, with the significant challenges faced by Defence Force families as they were coming back and after many tours, many tours in Afghanistan, and the impacts that was having on our veterans and continuing serving men and women in our Defence Forces. And there were children who were simply saying, ‘my dad has come home physically, but he's not home’. I couldn't imagine saying that as a kid. And I knew there was an organisation that could help those kids, and it was Camp K.

And together we worked up the pilot, first, of the Kookaburra Kids programs for Defence families. And it wasn't just about Defence Force kids coming along to a camp with all the other kids, because Defence Force kids have particular challenges. They have a different experience - they've moved around a lot, they've dealt with, you know, dealing with families in the Defence Forces has its own challenges. And so they needed to be in a place on their own terms, in their own space. And so we did the pilot - several million we put in at that time, as Treasurer.

A couple of years later, we upped that up, because it was working. I love investing in things that work and with Camp K, they just kept working, so we kept investing. And we upped it to almost $8 million. 

And now, today, to kick off the the celebrations for the 20th year, I'm pleased to announce today that we will be supporting this program with a further $13.7 million in the Defence Kids program. This this will expand the program into more regional areas. How good’s that? It's going to be in Wagga, it's going to be in Albury/Wodonga, it's going to be in the Mornington Peninsula, Bendigo, Ballarat and Geelong. And for the first time, children in the north and south of Tasmania will also have access to these services, and that's incredibly exciting. And I know they're going to do a great job in taking that forward in the future.

I joked with Chris yesterday, people are going to say this, that you're just, you know, showing favouritism to a great organisation coming out of the Shire. I said, well, I'm going to find that really hard to defend. But that's not the case. Whether it's a great community organisation coming out of the Shire that is now helping kids and families nationally, I see that all the time. I see organisations all around the country that start off in a community response to a community need in a town or a city or a suburb, and it's a great thrill to see that go to a national scale.

And, so, congratulations. I am so glad for Jenny and I to be part of this, and we’ll be part of it long after, I'm sure, our time working in parliamentary life is there, because it's just an area of great passion for us, and I want to thank everybody for being involved. And, welcome.

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