Victoria has brought forward plans to place mental health practitioners in the state’s high schools by a whole year, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Rollout of the $51.2 million initiative will be finalised by Term Four, bringing the original schedule to place psychologists, social workers, occupational therapists and mental welfare nurses in schools for up to five days each week.
Victorian education minister James Merlino said in a statement that the COVID-19 pandemic and its public health restrictions made for an ‘incredibly difficult time for kids’.
“We’re making sure they’re supported while studying,” Merlino said of the approximately 188,000 high school students who will receive counselling and early intervention services from the mental health practitioners.
“We’ve laid out our plan to get students back into the classroom this term, but we know some kids will need more support – and this program will make it easy for them to reach out and get the mental health care they deserve,” he said.
Throughout the pandemic, we’ve invested more than $225 million to make sure every Victorian who’s finding this period difficult can get help, so please reach out to your GP, a community mental health organisation or a crisis call centre if you need care. pic.twitter.com/SNegVkciY8
— James Merlino (@JamesMerlinoMP) September 9, 2021
The practitioners will be able to connect students with other allied and community health services to achieve a ‘whole-school mental health promotion and prevention activities’. This support will also be made available during remote learning periods.
“We’ve delivered the Mental Health Practitioners initiative a year ahead of schedule ─ giving students in secondary and specialist schools the direct support they need during and well beyond this pandemic,” the education minister said.
By term four, another 50 schools in Goulburn, Brumbank/Melton and Wimmera South West will receive funding to recruit a mental health practitioner, completing the rollout.
More targeted support for Victorian students with special needs was delivered by the government in August 2020, with an extra 51 practitioners allocated to schools with vulnerable children.
Approximately 4,300 high school students living with a disability currently have access to a mental welfare practitioner at their state school.
On top of the mental health practitioners program, the Victorian state government has committed a $28.5 million funding package to ensure all government school students receive continued access to mental health and wellbeing support during the pandemic. The government has also established a $200 million school mental health fund for schools to tailor specialised programs and services for their students.