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Dollars for student mental health must be matched by sense

A pledge to better support Victorian students to settle back into school after months of isolating lockdowns will only make a difference if there’s enough mental health practitioners to deliver it.

The Victorian Government today promised to fund practitioners in every public school from Term Four, but failed to back it up with the necessary reforms to restore this exhausted and under-resourced workforce.

Shadow Minister for Mental Health Emma Kealy said the fund will only support students if there is an available pool of Mental Health Practitioners (MHP) to deliver the services.

“Our public schools are ideally placed to help support better mental wellbeing of Victorian students struggling with the isolation of lockdown, but there’s not enough workers to deliver it,” Ms Kealy said.

“The Liberals and Nationals will introduce a Private Member’s Bill to State Parliament this week to unlock more workers to support our kids and I urge Labor MPs to get behind it.

“We’ll propose minor changes to the Mental Health Act to recognise people who are qualified as Counsellors as MHP – a small change that will deliver an extra 2000 people into the workforce.”

Disappointingly, Labor MPs chose to block similar reforms that were proposed last sitting week in Parliament’s lower house. Ms Kealy said if Labor was serious about getting MHP into schools then they will support the Liberal Nationals’ Bill.

“This will be a chance for Labor MPs to make up for some of the damage the Government’s lockdowns have had on our kids’ mental wellbeing and ensure schools can tap into the local workforce,” Ms Kealy said.

“In many areas of Victoria, particularly regional areas, Counsellors are the only mental health support available – but without these crucial reforms, schools can’t employ them as MHP.”

Ms Kealy also called on the Andrews Government to bring forward the $200m School Mental Health Fund, which is not due to be rolled out until Term Three of 2022 in regional Victoria, and 2023 in metropolitan Melbourne.

“Our kids need mental health support right now - it will be too late for many to wait for another one or two years to get the mental health support they need today,” Ms Kealy said.

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