Centacare is playing a key role nurturing the mental health of young people living in regional South Australia. Through our Supporting Children & Youth (SCY) program, we work with families to build their resilience and overcome challenges in their lives.   

Every week Centacare’s SCY team travels hundreds of kilometres to bring sunshine to the bush.

A mental health outreach service operating across the Murray, Mid Murray, Coorong and Mallee regions, SCY sees children and young people who are showing early signs, or are at risk, of mental illness.

SCY team members, from left: Christine Hazel, Alison Oppelaar, Lynne Thorpe and Angelica Valderrama

For many families, the free Murray Bridge-based service is their only support.

From Morgan to Pinnaroo, Mount Pleasant and Tintinara, the SCY team engages children aged 0 to 18 years to improve their wellbeing and overcome challenges.

“…we are doing a lot in the present to help the future”
– Angelica Valderrama, SCY Family Practitioner


These include family breakdown, grief and loss, bullying, loneliness, peer pressure, low self-esteem and self-labelling.

“Some stories can be difficult but if we don’t address things now, they can escalate even more, so I feel we are doing a lot in the present to help the future,’’ says Family Practitioner Angelica Valderrama, who has been with SCY for two years.

“Children can sometimes be very silent but we give them a voice and a chance for their feelings to be heard.

“It can be difficult for a child to talk about hard stuff, so I feel very proud when they tell me precious things because I have their trust.

“They have a lot of wisdom and sometimes we forget that as adults; the way children say some things can be so simple but so powerful and perfectly applied to our adult lives.’’

SCY provides intensive long-term early intervention, short-term supports and opportunities for young people to reconnect to community.

Manager Lynne Thorpe says a rise in the number of self-referrals, in addition to those from local schools, doctors and other service providers, shows the program is having a positive impact in communities where `rural stoicism’ and stigma around mental illness has traditionally deterred people from seeking help.

“We see the relief from parents because in a lot of these areas, there are no other services that will come to them,’’ says Christine Hazel, SCY Family Practitioner.

“When you live in a remote location, distance is a huge barrier to accessing supports for your children if you have a four-hour round trip there and back and have to take them out of school.’’

Social isolation can exacerbate life stressors in vulnerable families, with the rate of suicide in rural Australia about 40 per cent higher than in major cities. Drug and alcohol use and smoking is also more prevalent.

SCY Family Practitioner Alison Oppelaar feels privileged to work with young people as they navigate childhood and adolescence.

“Just saying to a child ‘buddy, I believe in you’ can be super powerful for them and for their parents,’’ she says.

“Some children have challenging behaviours but every kid we work with is awesome. If they can see that and believe in themselves and understand why they react to certain situations, a lot of positive change can happen.

“When you praise them and build them up gradually and really listen to them, they look at you with this beam – it’s very rewarding.’’

For more information about SCY, please phone Centacare Murray Bridge 8215 6320 or email murraybridge@centacare.org.au