Prevention Conference 2009 at the Technical University of Braunschweig

Mental disorders in childhood and adolescence are widespread. Nowadays, almost one in three children has a mental illness in their development, especially aggressive behavioural disorders, ADHD and anxiety disorders. Unfortunately, 80 per cent of mentally ill children and adolescents remain untreated. At the same time, many parents feel overwhelmed by parenting issues and urgently want parenting help. There are about 50,000 family-related prevention programs in Germany every year. However, the sheer number of very different offers confuses parents and possibly harms the effectiveness of the majority of these parenting aids has not been proven.

There is also a great need for action in the prevention of child abuse and neglect. Empirical research results point to a substantial dark field of unrecognised child welfare risks.

At the conference, an interdisciplinary exchange took place on the opportunities and necessities of psychological prevention. Eight experts from the universities of Basel, Bielefeld, Braunschweig, Essen, Cologne, Potsdam and Ulm gave presentations. The conference was very successful: it involved more than 550 – in the subsequent public panel discussion, even 600 – participants. The panel discussion, moderated by television journalist Maybrit Illner, also reached many parents and educators.

Compared to Anglo-American countries, where much more financial resources are made available for prevention, Germany and Switzerland are developing countries in the “prevention of child mental disorders”. The speakers, therefore, appealed to politicians to support the accessibility of scientifically evaluated parenting programs.

Germany could not ignore the World Health Organization (WHO) demand for the prevention of mental disorders.

The convention has succeeded in initiating a dialogue between scientists, doctors and psychologists, and politicians and decision-makers on prevention measures. It is still essential to improve the structural and financial framework for evidence-based prevention, create more transparency, and strengthen those responsible for health policy. Only in this way will we reach large sections of parents, especially parents from so-called “educationally disadvantaged” groups, with qualified help.

One result of the conference is that the TU Braunschweig will provide a research assistant position for at least two years to train about 30 BSc and MSc students per year in the evidence-based prevention programs “A Partnership Learning Program” (EPL) and “Positive Parenting Program” (Triple P). In doing so, the capacity of slots in these prevention programs will be significantly increased in the Brunswick region, and approximately 1,000 Triple P and 600 EPL slots will be available for parents.

Further efforts to make such evidence-based prevention and intervention programs more available to couples, parents and children are underway. For example, are the training programs offered in EPL in Zurich in the summer of 2010.