Introducing our Mental Health Charity Partner.
Margo Ward | Founder and CEO of KidsXpress
KidsXpress is a trauma-focused children’s mental health charity providing innovative and evidenced based programs to children impacted by adverse childhood experiences. The seed of KidsXpress emerged out of Margo’s professional experiences working as Head of the Play Therapy Unit at Sydney Children's Hospital and as a National Facilitator in Suicide Prevention.
What is Expressive Therapy?
Expressive Therapy combines psychology and the creative process to promote emotional growth and healing. By harnessing our inborn desire to create, the KidsXpress Expressive Therapy program uniquely combines the modalities of art, music, play and drama as therapeutic tools to help initiate change. Our approach is underpinned by an understanding of early intervention, the proven healing powers of the expressive therapies and the incredible ability of the brain to change itself (‘neuroplasticity’). For children with limited language skills and vocabularies, and particularly for children impacted by trauma who may be unable to put thoughts into speech, expression through art, music, movement, or play empowers them to express themselves without the need for words.
How did you discover the power of Expressive Therapy?
Working for many years as both a play therapist and in a national suicide prevention role, KidsXpress founder Margo Ward saw first-hand how unresolved childhood trauma could lead to much greater social and psychological problems in adulthood. When children who had experienced trauma and adversity were given the creative and emotional resources to work through problems as they arose, she also saw they were able to turn these challenges into opportunities, building strength, resilience and other life skills that would benefit them into adulthood. These experiences and observations led to Margo establishing the KidsXpress in 2005 – to change the life trajectory for children in need. The program itself pioneered expressive therapy in Australia which is now widely recognised as best practice when working with trauma impacted children.
‘Left Out’ – Mila, age 11
Imagine having no control over the people who enter and leave your life – whether from relocation, parental separation or death. Mila has experienced all three.
Mila’s painting , Left out depicts all the connections in her life. She notes that one circle is different from all the others – it doesn’t have an orange dot inside making it ‘left out’.
Can you give us a typical scenario in which KidsXpress improves the wellbeing of a child?
Children are referred to KidsXpress via a professional pathway, many of the children we support are living with the effects of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) such as sexual abuse, domestic violence, grief, loss and neglect.
Creativity and play are the tools a child first uses to learn about themselves and their world. Moreover, neurophysiologists have shown that art and healing all come from the same source in the body and so expressive therapies can effectively assist in the healing process by altering a child’s brain physiology, ultimately leading to improved emotional wellbeing. As a child is welcomed into the KidsXpress therapeutic space, the expressive modalities offer a stable ground for developing emotional safety and opening pathways for inherent healing which may otherwise be inaccessible by traditional talking therapies. Put simply, a child’s creative process becomes their road towards emotional health.
A typical KidsXpress session includes sensory aids such as puppets, clay and figurines which are vital tools in Expressive Therapy as they offer children a way to explore their senses and express their emotions. For instance, our therapists incorporate calico dolls for role-playing, for displaying inside and outside feelings on each side of the doll, or for creating a special friend for a young client that they can take home at the end of their session. The dolls are also often used to indicate the scale of traumatic experiences that a child has gone through. Moreover, children who have experienced trauma can sometimes find it difficult to put words to their experiences. Using soft, tactile and sensory rich materials in a safe environment helps them to feel calm and provides a sense of safety. The sensory rich “rubber duckie” caretaking activity is another oft-used technique for supporting children to explore personal needs for safety, love and respect. Children are provided with a paper plate and various materials and invited to create a safe place for their yellow rubber duck along with a story about it. This can help them to share about their world, as well as provide a sense of safety in the therapy space. Renown art therapist Cathy Malchiodi surmises that the language parts of the brain come back “on-line” when we make with our hands.
‘Untouched’ – Emma, age 10
What would it be like to be able to go back in time? To a time when everything was perfect – ‘untouched’ even.
That’s what Emma wanted to do, to go back to that time when her dad was untouched by a disease he had no control over, a time when she had never heard of motor neuron disease.
‘Untouched’ shows a strong blue path getting smaller and smaller as it weaves away into the distant sunset.
I listened to a TED Talk about creativity and how we 'unlearn it' in a way as we go through school. How can we tap back into our child-like artistic expression?
Pablo Picasso once said “All children are artists; the problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up”. Unfortunately, the creative arts, including the once compulsory subjects of art, music and drama, are increasingly being squeezed out of school curriculums due to a focus on core academic subjects. And so, yes, children are indeed ‘unlearning it’ – even from the very early years of school. This is detrimental, especially for young children who use creativity and play as tools to learn about themselves and their world. As children continue to grow into adults, the creative side of their brains is used less and less. However it’s never too late to tap back into artistic expression and we saw this a lot during the Covid-19 lockdown period when many adults picked up or revisited favourite pastimes, including playing musical instruments, doing art and craft activities, cooking or creating TikTok videos! The lockdown forced us to have some time to slow down, change routines and unplug. Without that constant external noise and sensory overload we have the space to sort through the creative thoughts we have. The benefits are now well known, research tells us that an increase in creativity in our everyday activities helps to activate a positive mood.
‘Love’ – Alyssa, age 9
What would it be like if you and your three siblings could no longer live with your mum and dad – it’s just too unsafe? Drugs, strangers in your home, violence and incarceration are all experiences you do not expect in a young life.
You and your siblings now live with your grandparents and through family dinners, birthday parties and new friends you are re-building a life of experiences fit for a child.
“The love is still dark but there is a little brightness inside it,” is how Alyssa describes her experienced in her image titled ‘Love’.
What’s the best way people can support KidsXpress and your work?
We love it when people use their own creativity to raise awareness and fundraise for us. Some of our supporters have run a charity art show or staged a performance. This year, one of our corporate supporters ran a virtual talent show was also a big success and a lot of fun. For those that have children or work with children our new Feelings Cards are a valuable tool and we would love to offer you a 10% discount using code KXSPECIAL at the checkout.
We also love to share our knowledge via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, so consider following us on social media or visit our website to learn more about the work KidsXpress does to create a lifetime of change for vulnerable children.