Every student should have reliable and prompt access to appropriate mental health support at school.
There is currently only 1 school psychologist employed for every 600 students in public schools. This is down from 1:700 last election, but well short of the 1:500 target. With waiting times for an initial session being half a school year, even this target is woefully insufficient.
Students rely on school psychologist for addressing sensitive matters such as schoolyard bullying, anxiety, and even domestic violence. It is critical that vulnerable students have the support they need.
A parent has recently told me the story of their child who has fallen behind and has started the process to help them catch up. The first step that the Education Directorate requires is a formal assessment by a qualified professional – a very reasonable step. The problem is that parents are faced with the choice of waiting up to 20 weeks to see the school psychologist, or paying upward of $1,200 for an initial session with a private psychologist.
Letting your child fall a further semester behind in class or finding an extra $1,200+ in your household budget can be an impossible choice. Parents should not be forced to choose between the mental health and educational wellbeing of their children, or paying the bills.
- Starting with the obvious, the ratio of school psychologists to students needs to be much lower. Targets should not be based on arbitrary numbers, but the need of students. Availability of adequate help is the only measure that counts.
- The Mental Health and Wellbeing approach to education has proactive resources to cater for students and staff. There should also be a well-equipped education-specific Crisis Response Team and services. This will allow individual schools to focus on the day to day wellbeing of students, while being able to draw on experts in the event of traumatic and extraordinary situations.
- Review the available support in light of the COVID-19 pandemic to ensure we deliver appropriate support to students and staff.