Family crisis inspires children’s mental health initiative

  • 7 October 2021

Auspire caught up with 2021 Community Citizen of the Year, Diane Wilcox, to find out about the growth of her program, The Magic Coat, and how it’s working to benefit children’s mental health.

“When my daughter was five, she was placed on life support and I was told that she wasn’t going to make it, so I promised that if she survived, I would dedicate my life to helping children. It’s wonderful to know that that dedication is paying off in helping the community.”

The origin story of The Magic Coat is an incredibly personal one for its founder, but an inspiring example of turning a traumatic experience into something positive. The morning we meet Diane (or ‘Di’ as she warmly introduces herself), she is busy preparing for the next phase of The Magic Coat – an empty space above Claremont café, Fika, which will be transformed to run workshops for children and parents. The room is a blank canvas to make way for a creative design that will look to comfort and inspire children, including the under-the-sea characters that The Magic Coat uses to connect to all children.

Created in 2016, The Magic Coat is designed to help children be socially and emotionally safe and confident. Not only is Di motivated by her personal experience, as a primary school teacher she witnessed how unhappy children would struggle academically, so she decided to tackle the cause early on.

“I looked at Positive Psychology, which looks at the strengths of the person, not the weaknesses. I think that’s what children need more of. I also looked at Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and I realised that I can simplify it so young children can understand it. They think concretely, not abstractly, so that’s how the concept and the nautical characters of The Magic Coat were born.”

It is for her work on the program and support of children’s mental health that Di was recognised by City of Nedlands as their 2021 Community Citizen of the Year. While the award celebrates her as an individual to highlight great people and inspire others, it has done great things for the cause that she stands for, which she says is worth even greater.

“Being nominated for an award is so humbling, but the best thing about it is not the recognition of yourself, but for the program and the ability that it has to let other people know that it exists. I’ve had families who didn’t know about us, be able to reach out.”

It’s clear to see how The Magic Coat has been given the opportunity to grow. Alongside the new workshop space, the program is launching a fortnightly podcast called ‘Inspired Parenting’ and a video series named ‘Treasure Box’, during which Di interviews children who have experienced significant challenges and come out the other side “to give other kids hope”. The program has become NDIS-approved, works with children in refuges and in prisons with their mothers, and has recently partnered with University of Western Australia to do further research into the efficacy of the program and how it can be developed further. Furthermore, Di is preparing for a fundraising ball at Perth’s Convention Centre to mark the beginning of Mental Health Week.

This year, you could argue that Mental Health Week has taken on new prominence, as the COVID-19 pandemic disrupts home, school and work to inevitably impact people’s mental health, no matter their age.

“Anxiety was already on the increase before the pandemic, but it’s up so much more because of it. A child might hear their parent cough, and they think they’ve got COVID and might die. The catastrophic thinking a child has, has increased, because now they’re even more aware. They’re constantly hearing in the media that there’s this problem in the world and they’re just waiting for it to affect their family, because that’s how children think – they wonder when, not if.”

This is one of many reasons why the work of The Magic Coat and the dedication from Di is so vital. A global pandemic threatening what a child believes to be safe and secure, on top of the uncertainty of manoeuvring through childhood, means that we need to support our children even more. It’s not too soon – or too late – to start.

Mental Health Week is 9th – 16th October 2021.

If you believe in what someone is doing and you want to get the word out, do it by nominating them for Community Citizen of the Year at

The Community Citizen of the Year Awards are proudly supported by 9 News Perth, WA Today and News Talk 6PR 882.

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