- Questions on Notice No 6232
- Assembly59 Parliament First Session
- Asked: 12 October 2021
Question on NoticeMs Ryan to ask the Minister for Education — Have any additional school counselling and mental health services been offered to schools in regional areas that have been shut down by the Government.
- Answered: 23 November 2021
I am informed as follows:
The Department has worked closely with the Department of Health (DH) to support schools implement appropriate health and safety measures to reduce the risk of coronavirus (COVID-19) transmission and to respond to cases of coronavirus (COVID-19) in schools and school communities, however school closures may be a necessary precaution when a positive coronavirus (COVID-19) case has attended onsite.
The CHO’s advice continues to be that schools remain safe places for staff and students when the recommended health and safety advice is followed
The mental health and wellbeing of students is of the utmost importance to the Andrews Labor Government and the Department of Education and Training, and the students in Regional schools are no exception. Throughout the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, decisions on the operation of Victorian schools have been made on the advice of the Victorian Chief Health Officer.
I acknowledge the challenges faced by all Victorians throughout the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, and the mental health and wellbeing of students is of the utmost importance to the Victorian Government and the Department of Education and Training.
I am informed that there is existing support for students at regional schools currently experiencing closures due to coronavirus (COVID-19) and it is available through the Student Support Services (SSS) program. SSS teams are comprised of Allied Health professionals including psychologists, speech pathologists and social workers. SSS staff support schools in assisting children and young people facing barriers to learning to achieve their educational and developmental potential. Access to SSS is managed through a referral process by a student’s school. More information about the role of SSS and the referral process is available at: www2.education.vic.gov.au/pal/student-support-services/policy.
Schools are also able to obtain support through their identified Health and Wellbeing Key Contact (HWKC). The HWKC proactively works with schools to ensure they are able to access support services required, both for individual students experiencing vulnerability and to proactively support whole-school approaches to wellbeing. Where there is a need for additional support from Regional teams, including for schools in rural or regional locations who are experiencing additional periods of remote and flexible learning as a result of coronavirus (COVID-19) restrictions, this will be identified and facilitated by the HWKC on behalf of the school.
The Department of Education and Training has also partnered with headspace to provide Victorian government secondary school students with enhanced access to mental health support. Counselling for students across all schools is available through headspace as a result of the headspace partnership. The headspace regional phone counselling service supports students living in rural, regional and remote areas who may find it difficult to otherwise access counselling supports.
The Government is committed to supporting the mental health and wellbeing of all Victorians which is why we are investing $217.8 million through the 2021-22 State Budget in new support for schools, ensuring our children and young people receive the mental health support when and where they need it most.
I recently launched this new $200 million Schools Mental Health Fund that this Budget funded. It $200 million Schools Mental Health Fund to support Victorian Government schools to select programs, staff and other support from an evidence-based menu that best meets their students’ mental health and wellbeing needs. The Fund will provide schools with opportunities to purchase resources that support the promotion of mental health and wellbeing; enable schools to intervene early to support students, and provided targeted support for individual students.
Schools will be able to draw from a range of evidence-informed measures proven to work, including the ‘Positive Education’ model and dog therapy programs, through to mental health first aid training. Schools will also be able to use their funding to engage more mental health and wellbeing staff to further support their children and young people. The Fund will be rolled out in all government regional and rural schools as a priority from Term 3 2022, and all government metropolitan schools by 2024.
The new funding will also continue and expand the Mental Health in Primary Schools pilot to reach 100 schools in 2022. A partnership with the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, the pilot enables schools to employ a Mental Health and Wellbeing Lead, while also supporting staff to better understand and respond to mental health and wellbeing issues affecting their students. Evidence produced through the Pilot is informing larger-scale research and development of what works to support primary school students’ mental health and wellbeing.
This investment delivers on the Government’s commitment to implement all 74 of the Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System’s recommendations including Recommendation 17: Supporting social and emotional wellbeing in schools.
In addition, the Andrews Labor Government has funded a mental health practitioner into every single government secondary school in the state. This roll-out has been brought forward to the end of 2021 – a year earlier, to support our students throughout the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
Mental health practitioners are continuing to provide remote support where they are unable to attend onsite. Allied health professionals can provide urgent or essential services onsite at all schools where telehealth services are not clinically appropriate, within the context of current advice available at: HWIW service provision in Victorian government schools.
Further information on supports for student mental health is available from schools and can also be viewed at: www.education.vic.gov.au/parents/family-health/Pages/your-childs-mental-health.aspx.
The Department has developed mental health and wellbeing resources for students, teachers and carers which are available through the ‘Mental Health Toolkit’ and can be accessed on the Department’s website at: www.education.vic.gov.au (search: mental health toolkit).
The mental health and wellbeing of all school students will continue to be a Government priority and supports will be put in place to support the mental health and wellbeing of all students including those in regional Victoria during the pandemic and into the future.
The Hon James Merlino MP
Minister for Education
Minister for Mental Health
Minister for Disability, Ageing and Carers
Date: 25 / 10 / 2021