Psychologists applaud Federal Government commitment to mental health in schools

Australian Psychological Society

The Australian Psychological Society (APS) welcomes the Federal Government’s announcement of an overhaul to the national school chaplaincy program, saying this was an opportunity to implement the APS recommended ratio of one psychologist to every 500 students.

Federal Education Minister Jason Clare MP has confirmed the Albanese Government will change the program that currently requires schools to hire chaplains with an affiliation to a recognised religion. Under the plan, Labor will allow schools to choose between hiring a religious or secular pastoral care worker.

APS President Tamara Cavenett welcomed the news.

“Investment of government funds into placement of qualified mental health experts such as psychologists into schools just makes sense.

“The APS has raised significant concerns over many years about the national school chaplaincy program. We’ve repeatedly stated that while we are not opposed to the presence of chaplains in schools for pastoral care, the investment of scarce government-funded resources should be redirected to professional qualified experts, such as psychologists.

“This is a step in the right direction for evidence-based pastoral and mental health care for Australian school students. It is common sense, and it is entirely appropriate.

“Young Aussies have experienced turmoil, uncertainty, and major disruption to their schooling and major childhood milestones over the past two years. Never has it been more important to ensure they are receiving mental health care from qualified experts.

“Fifty per cent of lifelong mental health issues start before the age of 14 years, so school is the appropriate setting to catch early signs and provide early intervention,” she said.

Ms Cavenett said the APS was pleased Government had taken the feedback of the APS and its 27,000 psychologist members on board.

“For many years we have been urging the Federal Government to develop a national benchmark for school-based psychologist to student ratios.

“Evidence shows by aiming for a benchmark of 1 psychologist to every 500 students would benefit the whole school community an provide vital support to teachers, principals and families.

“Psychologists employed in schools work at a whole-of-school level on programs to support children’s’ mental health, development and learning. The benefits of access to a psychologist at the right time, can be seen for years to come. It simply makes good economic sense to look after the mental health of our children.

“Psychologists can assess children for mental health issues, learning difficulties, intellectual disability, and can work with teachers and families to support children with behavioural issues and learning difficulties.

Ms Cavenett said while this was a step in the right direction, more would need to be done to ensure the workforce is available to support. School psychologists and those psychologists with an Endorsement in Educational and Developmental Psychology have additional expertise in working with children, their families and schools, to minimise the educational impact of difficulties with mental health or disabiliites. A review of the School Chaplaincy program represents an opportunity to increase access for students, and also to fund vital trainee opportunities to help train the child psychology workforce of the future.

“Across the country we are seeing people struggle to access the care they need, because the workforce is overwhelmed. We predict this problem will worsen over coming years.

“The Federal Government is only meeting 35% of its psychological workforce target, the largest shortfall of any mental health profession, and this is particularly felt in the child and youth space.

“We have a 10-point plan to address this crisis and ensure the workforce is strengthened and future-proofed, and able to meet the needs of school kids and all other Australians into the future,” she said.

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