Research has shown that anxiety has the highest prevalence rate of all childhood mental disorders, affecting approximately 65,000 children and youth in B.C.
But thanks to a newly expanded program in the Quesnel school district, more than 500 elementary school students are now being taught the skills they need to cope with their fears and manage difficult situations, now and later in life.
The FRIENDS for Life program is a school-based early intervention and prevention program, proven to be effective in reducing the risk of anxiety disorders and building resilience in children. Children and youth participate in 10 or more classroom-based sessions that are reinforced by take-home activities.
The Quesnel school district is considered one of the provincial leaders in participation and support of the FRIENDS program. Seventy-one teachers have been trained to deliver the program in 13 of its 14 elementary schools. Half of district's schools jumped on board when the program launched in 2004 for grades 4 and 5 students.
Participation grew when the Ministry of Children and Family Development expanded the program to serve grades 6 and 7 students. In the 2009-10 school year, the school district was one of seven districts chosen to pilot the early years version of the program called Fun FRIENDS.
The success of those pilots led the ministry to expand the program further in 2011 to offer FRIENDS to kindergarten and Grade 1 students provincewide.
Minister of Children and Family Development Mary McNeil had a chance to see a Fun FRIENDS session in action this morning at École Baker Elementary School.
Elizabeth Clode, Quesnel school district counsellor and school psychologist -
"As a certified trainer for the FRIENDS program, I've been continually impressed by my colleague's commitment to the mental health literacy and well being of their students. Since FRIENDS was first offered in 2004, teachers have been leaping at the opportunity to get training to deliver the program in their classes."
Cathy Braun, École Baker Elementary school teacher -
"The Fun FRIENDS program is easy to use in my classroom. There are so many suggested activities that it's easy to plan fun and interesting lessons. It's helping students develop stronger social and emotional skills and take responsibility for their actions."
- Developed in Australia, the FRIENDS For Life program was first introduced in B.C. in 2004 as part of the Ministry of Children and Family Development's (MCFD) five-year Child and Youth Mental Health Plan.
- Delivered in public schools throughout the province, FRIENDS is co-ordinated and funded by the Ministry of Children and Family Development. The program is receiving close to $600,000 in 2011-12.
- MCFD provides certified FRIENDS trainers to instruct one-day certification training to teachers so they can deliver it in the classroom.
- To date, all school districts in B.C. have participated in the program, including many independent and First Nations schools. Approximately 4,000 educators have been trained to deliver FRIENDS.
- A parent component is included in the program, whereby parents can learn about anxiety and the FRIENDS skills taught in the classroom so they can are equipped to reinforce these skills at home. More than 1,000 parents have attended workshops since 2005. Recently, online parent resources became available, including a workshop and many other online FRIENDS resources for parents and family members.
- FRIENDS is the only childhood anxiety prevention and treatment program acknowledged by the World Health Organization.
- Research shows that up to 80 per cent of children showing signs of an anxiety disorder no longer display that disorder after completing the program.
- FRIENDS is an acronym for the skills learned in the program:
F - Feelings
R - Remember to relax
I - I can try! I can do my best!
E - Explore coping plans and solutions
N - Now reward yourself
D - Don't forget to practise
S - Smile and stay calm for life
For further information about FRIENDS in B.C., go to: http://www.mcf.gov.bc.ca/mental_health/friends.htm
For more detailed information on Child and Youth Mental Health programs and services in the province, go to: http://www.mcf.gov.bc.ca/mental_health/
Media Relations Manager
Ministry of Children and Family Development