Twenty-six Victorian primary schools will employ a mental health and wellbeing co-ordinator to provide training and be a link between classrooms, families and external support as part of a program that was co-designed by the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute.
The plan is being trialled in state schools, with additional funding from the Ian Potter Centre to respond to a need exposed by the coronavirus pandemic for more sustainable, everyday ways for schools to help their students.
Professor Frank Oberklaid, of the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, said the importance of addressing children’s mental health had long been overlooked before the effects of the pandemic, including lockdown and remote learning, made the problem highly visible.
“Many kids did it hard during COVID-19 lockdown,” he said. “Everyone realised we need to start paying attention to children’s issues.
“There’s such strong relationship between learning and behaviour.”
Professor Oberklaid said the program was designed with teachers to make something practical and effective they could actually use.
“Teachers now see this is a core role for them but they say ‘I need more resources in the school’. They might not have the time or confidence or expertise to do it all themselves,” he said.
The pilot program ran in 10 primary schools across metropolitan and regional north and south west Victoria last year. If the expanded trial is a similar success then it may be rolled out across all state schools.
Kangaroo Flat Primary School principal Kim Saddlier said having the new role in the school had given teachers new skills and broken down stigma around mental health.