Politics — 02 September 2016

The ACT Greens have recognised that schools are often the first place to identify youth mental health problems and have made a commitment to increase funding to youth services as part of their education policy in the lead-up to the ACT election.

Announcing the policy on Thursday the Greens outlined a two-prong approach that invested in student mental health and better support for students with learning difficulties.

The Greens have committed to investing $4 million over the next four years to fund mental health services for children and young people.

They will also fund additional school psychologists in 2017 to build the assessment capacity for children with learning difficulties to ensure families do not need to pay for private tests.

“The Greens understand that supporting our students and young people is an investment in Canberra’s future,” said Greens MLA Shane Rattenbury.

“The ACT is seeing an alarming growth in rates of youth mental health problems, and schools are often the first place to recognise the issues in young people. We need to make sure every student, in every school, every week of the year can get the help they need.”

Mr Rattenbury, the current ACT Education Minister, said schools were often the first place young people sought help.

“We need to make sure every young person can get help when and where they need it, across all sectors,” he said.

The ACT Greens said principals and teachers were doing all they could to identify and help young people experiencing mental health issues but were struggling to access the right services. They called for mental health services for young people to be better integrated with schools.

They also said that while the ACT performed well on national literacy and numeracy testing, evidence showed that a large percentage of students were struggling with some aspect of learning.

“Right now, too many students are finding themselves needing out-of-school assessments and tutoring to catch up or overcome their learning difficulties,” Mr Rattenbury said.

“We know that each and every student has different needs in the classroom. That’s why we’re investing in a coaching and mentoring model to give hands-on training and support across our schools.”

Australian Education Union ACT branch secretary Glenn Fowler said the union welcomed the Greens’ pledge to increasing investment in mental health services for children.

“This holistic approach has the potential to provide wrap-around mental health services to give students the care that they need,” Mr Fowler said.

“At the same time it would make life easier for teachers by enabling them to perhaps focus less on pastoral care and dedicate more time to teaching and learning.”

This article first appeared on The Canberra Times on 1 September 2016.

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