Government neglects children while mental health issues surge in schools

The mental health of Victoria’s students deteriorated during Labor’s COVID-19 lockdowns and school closures, with increased calls to youth programs and mental health services.

There was a 28 per cent increase in calls to the phone counselling service Kids Helpline between March and July 2020 compared with the same period last year. 

As well as a 19 per cent jump from July to August compared with the previous month, as revealed in the Public Accounts and Estimates Committee (PAEC).

Yet, despite concerns about the mental health of Victorian students, the Department of Education officials were unable to answer basic questions on mental health support:

  • they were unable to detail the roll-out of the Mental Health Practitioners Program, and could not explain why the Program has not been fast-tracked across all of Victoria, despite the peak in mental health issues
  • they could not provide numbers on how many students have engaged with the Program, showing the Andrews Labor Government has completely ignored the impact of its lockdowns on students
  • with the program running for 12 months, and a requirement to report on achievements every six months, the Andrews Labor Government has failed to begin the evaluation process, only saying it would be available “soon”.

Disturbingly, the Department would not commit to the public release on the evaluation of mental health services for Victorian students.

Data revealed to PAEC shows the government fell staggeringly short of its own targets in 2019-20, with 46 per cent of people only departing to a mental health bed after they had been waiting in the emergency department for eight hours or more.

Earlier this year, the Report on Government Services highlighted alarming statistics related to youth mental health, with almost one in four Victorians under the age of 18 admitted to hospital for mental health reasons being readmitted within 28 days of discharge. This is compared with a 12.7 per cent readmission rate in New South Wales.

Comments attributable to Shadow Minister for Education, Early Childhood, Higher Education, Training and Skills, David Hodgett:

“We saw last year the effects of the lockdown not only in terms of learning, but on students’ mental health, feelings of belonging and social development.

“We know that students have been genuinely traumatised by the lockdown of 2020 and they need to know that the government is prioritising their academic and mental health needs.”

Comment attributable to Shadow Minister for Mental Health Emma Kealy:

“The failure of the Andrews Labor Government to assess the outcomes of its belated and incomplete Mental Health Program is staggering. After seven months of school closures last year, our students deserve far better.”

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