Expanding early intervention programs for young people

As part of mental health reform, the Australian Government is investing $491.7 million over five years for the expansion of youth focused early intervention models, such as the expansion of headspace to 90 sites nationally, and the Outreach teams to schools measure which delivers suicide postvention and risk awareness services.

In addition, the KidsMatter Primary program is being expanded with investment of $27.9 million over five years, under the Taking Action to Tackle Suicide package. This program aims to support mental health promotion, prevention and early intervention for all children through universal evidence-based school and early childhood programs. This investment will assist schools to help children to develop social and emotional skills, and create a supportive school environment.

MindMatters is a mental health promotion, prevention and early intervention initiative for Australian secondary schools. It provides evidence-based resources for classroom use, training for teachers, support for school leadership and strategies and resources to increase student's awareness of mental illness, reduce stigma and increase help-seeking behaviours.

Advisory Mechanisms

Recommendation 5

The Committee recommends that the Australian Government, in consultation with state and territory governments and other key stakeholders, undertake appropriate consultation and engagement with young people to:
  • further develop approaches to youth suicide prevention as part of the National Suicide Prevention Strategy
  • develop new youth suicide prevention initiatives and programs
  • to evaluate existing youth suicide prevention measures and
  • share information. (para 4.19)

Response

The Australian Government supports this recommendation, and has initiatives in place to address it.

For example, headspace Youth National Reference Group is a diverse group of young people, ranging in age from 16 to 25 years, who have either experienced a mental health issue or who have an interest in the area. The group assists headspace in a variety of ways and provides a platform for engagement and consultation to ensure headspace services resonate with young people. This group is being engaged to ensure the service delivery model of the Outreach to schools measure complements current activity in terms of school based suicide prevention and postvention support.

The Family Mental Health Support Service (FMHSS) 2011-12 budget measure which is funded for $61 million over five years, is designed to provide early intervention and intensive support for children and young people affected by, or at risk of, mental illness and their families. This measure is in recognition of the fact that mental illness in adults often has its origin in childhood and adolescence. Young people experiencing mental illness are at increased risk of attempting or completing suicide. Providers funded under this measure will be required to meet the National Standards for Mental Health Services which include Standard 3: Consumers and carers are actively involved in the development, planning, delivery and evaluation of services. By meeting this standard, providers will involve young people in the process of ensuring the services are appropriate and effective in responding to their mental health needs.Top of page

In addition, the Australian Government Office for Youth manages the Australian Youth Forum, a formal communication channel between the Australian Government, young people and the youth sector. The Forum engages directly with young Australians so that their voices can be heard and reflected in government policies and programs.

The Forum model employs a number of mechanisms to support the engagement of young people. These include the Forum website, discussion topics, online surveys, social media and direct engagement events. The Forum also engages an eleven member Forum Steering Committee, and funds the Australian Youth Affairs Coalition.

Effective participation models and consultative mechanisms that actively engage young people, such as headspace Youth National Reference Group, and those established under the Australian Youth Forum, reassert the value in providing opportunities for young people to contribute at a national level to help shape the decisions that directly affect them.

The Hon Mark Butler MP, Minister for Mental Health and Ageing, has consulted directly with young people through face-to-face discussions and online forums, hosted by the Inspire Foundation. These events have provided young people (14-25 years) the opportunity to directly engage with the Minister, prioritise topics for discussion and make recommendations for youth mental health service reform.

The recently revised and expanded membership of the Australian Suicide Prevention Advisory Council for the first time includes a young person with experience in mental health advocacy. Over the coming months, the Council will continue to review the National Suicide Prevention Strategy Action Framework for the period 2011-2014 giving consideration to youth related initiatives and the particular vulnerability of young people.

Additionally, the Roadmap provides for a number of important strategies that will help Commonwealth, State and Territory governments tackle mental health issues that are relevant to youth suicide prevention, including:

  • Enhancement and implementation of mental health and social and emotional wellbeing programs in parenting, perinatal care, early childhood development, pre-school and school communities
  • Better equipping early childhood and education workers and institutions to support and assist children and young people who may be at risk of developing mental illness and their families and
  • Building the competency of early childhood and education workers and institutions to identify and respond effectively to early signs of mental health issues.
The Australian Government will continue to engage with young people on the development and implementation of policy and programs that affect them.Top of page

Referral and care coordination

Recommendations 6 and 7

Recommendation 6

The Committee recommends that the Australian Government establish well defined linkages with existing programs addressing issues of cultural, educational, employment, social and economic disadvantage, so that initiatives under the National Suicide Prevention Strategy are recognised as an integral part of a holistic approach to youth suicide prevention. (para 4.22)

Recommendation 7

The Committee recommends that the Australian Government, in consultation with state and territory governments and non-government stakeholders, establish partnerships between departments of education and community-based service providers to ensure continuity of care for school leavers by facilitating referral of students to external counselling services where appropriate. (para 4.25)

Response

The Australian Government supports these recommendations and has taken action to address them through a range of policy and program responses across several portfolios.

A range of programs are funded by all Australian Governments to establish linkages and referral for the holistic care of clients. Such programs include psychosocial programs and support groups, respite for young carers, and support services for young people facing family breakdown.

The headspace program of youth focused mental health services will be expanded to 90 sites nationally. headspace provides an entry point for services by engaging a range of youth workers and mental health professionals within headspace sites, and by referring young people to other appropriate services.

Delivered nationally, the MindMatters initiative is a resource and professional development program supporting Australian secondary schools in promoting and protecting the mental health, and social and emotional wellbeing of all members of school communities.

The initiative utilises a range of strategies and resources to engage secondary school students. The program aims to increase a student's awareness of risk and protective factors, support them to maintain good mental health and builds their capacity to engage in help-seeking behaviours.

The Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations directly delivers a number of programs that address disadvantage for young people. Youth Connections Providers strengthen services for at risk young people and ensure that providers of other services in a region are connected and young people are able to access help when they need it, regardless of their institutional context, including high school, tertiary studies and Vocational and Educational Training programs.Top of page

These providers also build strong collaborative relationships with providers of other services to at-risk young people, including other Australian government providers, such as legal services, Centrelink and Job Services Australia, and relevant state and territory initiatives and programs.

By working with the School Business Community Partnership Broker in their region and other state and territory programs, Youth Connections Providers assist to build the capacity of those working with at-risk young people, including schools and education providers, to be better skilled at:

  • early identification of at-risk young people
  • delivering more effective interventions and support, which may include mentoring for at-risk young people
  • developing reengagement strategies for at-risk young people returning to the learning environment and
  • developing links with, and access to, services and support available in the region.
In addition, the National School Chaplaincy and Student Welfare Program workers regularly deal with issues relating to disadvantage in the school setting. It is a requirement of this program that workers are able to refer students to appropriate support services as required.

The Commonwealth also invests in youth engagement and wellbeing programs to support protective factors. The Sporting Chance Program is an example of how sport and recreation are used as a vehicle to increase the level of engagement of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students in their schooling. The objective of the program is to bring about positive educational and wellbeing outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students. The program has two elements:

  • School-based sports academies – innovative, intensive and high-quality, sports-focused learning and development for secondary students.
  • Education Engagement Strategies - a range of sport and recreation-based activities to engage students in education in remote communities (less intensive) for primary and secondary students.
To further support senior students and school leavers, the Commonwealth also provides information addressing disadvantage through programs such as Vocational Education and Training in Schools, Trade Training Centres, National Trade Cadetships, and National Indigenous Ranger Cadets.Top of page

National curriculum and training

Recommendations 8 and 9

Recommendation 8

The Committee recommends that the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority include social development education and mental health as a core component of the national curriculum for primary and secondary schools. (para 4.35)

Recommendation 9

The Committee recommends that social development and mental health education for older secondary school students include specific components to assist them to be better prepared for moving from school into the workforce or higher education, and aware of the full range of services available to assist them as they transition from child to adult services. (para 4.37)

Response

The Australian Government notes these recommendations, and recognises that schools play a key role in guiding children in their social development and supporting the transition from school into the workforce or higher education.

Australian Education Ministers have agreed that the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) should give priority to health and physical education in phase 3 of the development of the Australian Curriculum. During development of the health and physical education curriculum, content such as social development and mental health can be considered and opportunities to participate in consultation will be made available.

The MindMatters initiative provides mental health promotion, prevention and early intervention for Australian secondary schools and has the capacity to support the needs of students throughout their senior secondary education.

The student empowerment component of MindMatters supports the engagement of secondary school students in promoting positive mental health to young people to support resilience building and community engagement.

The Roadmap provides for a number of important strategies that will help Commonwealth, State and Territory governments tackle mental health issues that are relevant to youth suicide prevention, including:

  • Enhancement and implementation of mental health and social and emotional wellbeing programs in parenting, perinatal care, early childhood development, pre-school and school communities
  • Better equipping early childhood and education workers and institutions to support and assist children and young people who may be at risk of developing mental illness and their families and
  • Building the competency of early childhood and education workers and institutions to identify and respond effectively to early signs of mental health issues.
The Australian Government will continue to work with states and territories to address the principles of these recommendations.Top of page

Recommendation 10

The Committee recommends that teachers receive mandatory training on mental health awareness, including specific training to develop their capacity to recognise and assess suicidal risk. (para 4.51)

Response

The Australian Government supports this recommendation in principle, noting that both government and non-government education authorities have responsibility for the organisation, funding and delivery of school education, includes training.

The MindMatters initiative aims to increase a school's capacity to implement a 'whole-school' approach to mental health promotion, prevention and early intervention by providing hardcopy resource materials, a website, and the opportunity to engage in professional development and implementation support for teachers and school personnel.

The Commonwealth provides funding for the ResponseAbility Teacher Education Program which provides evidence-based resources on mental health and suicide prevention for pre-service education; tertiary and Vocational and Educational Training sectors; teachers and early childhood staff.

The Australian Government has also committed $550 million over five years from 2008-09, to the Smarter Schools - Improving Teacher Quality National Partnership (TQNP) in recognition that teacher quality is the single greatest in-school influence on student engagement and achievement. The TQNP provides a platform to raise student performance and to support other school reforms targeting low socio-economic status school communities and literacy and numeracy outcomes.

Under the TQNP, Australian governments are working collaboratively to implement a range of nationally significant and sustainable reforms targeting critical points in the teacher 'lifecycle' to attract, train, place, develop and retain quality teachers and leaders in our schools and classrooms. These measures are supported by other reforms including those that will develop effective workforce planning and support, improve teacher remuneration structures, increase school-based decision-making and improve teacher education and professional development.

A key reform under the TQNP, the new National Professional Standards for Teachers, is a public statement about what teachers are expected to know and be able to do at all career levels. Standard 1 – Know students and how they learn includes the expectation that teachers will develop and implement strategies for students with disability including students with mental health issues. The Standards also encourage teachers to engage with parents and carers in the progress of their child's education.

Another key reform is nationally consistent accreditation of initial teacher education programs. All programs will be assessed under agreed National Program Standards to ensure that all graduates are appropriately trained and well prepared to begin their career in the classroom. All graduates must demonstrate they meet the graduate level standards, as outlined in the National Professional Standards for Teachers, in order to obtain provisional registration.

Additionally, the revised National Safe Schools Framework2 endorsed by all ministers for education through the Ministerial Council for Education, Early Childhood Development and Youth Affairs in December 2010, was launched on 18 March 2011.

The Framework provides Australian schools with a vision and a set of guiding principles that assist whole school communities to develop positive and practical student safety and wellbeing policies. The Framework and a supporting resource manual are now available to all Australian schools.Top of page

Footnotes

2 National Safe Schools Framework, 2011. Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations. Available at: www.deewr.gov.au/Schooling/NationalSafeSchools/Pages/nationalsafeschoolsframework.aspx