Mental Health Services in Focus
Members of CEP’s Rural Youth Ambassador (RYA) Alumni have met with Victorian Education Minister James Merlino, imploring him to ensure flexibility within the government’s new Mental Health in Schools program.
The $51 million initiative, which promises expanded access to mental health services in all state secondary schools, was announced last year as part of the government’s re-election campaign.
Meeting with the Minister last week, representatives of the RYA Alumni discussed ways the initiative could allow rural and remote schools to band together to access new services, rather than going it alone.
They also presented arguments for linking the new initiative to existing community-based youth services, particularly in rural areas.
RYA Alumni Tom Boucher-Hill says it was a rewarding discussion with Mr Merlino, together with Parliamentary Secretary for Schools, Tim Richardson.
“It was a pretty frank discussion and it was refreshing that, I think, they were genuinely receptive to what we had to say and they didn’t just talk at us, they talked with us,” Mr Boucher-Hill said.
“In particular, we raised concerns about the way in which the initiative will operate because we know there is a lot of stigma around mental health issues, particularly in country towns, so we suggested that if the initiative was provided through an existing community service, it may increase the likelihood of rural students seeking the help they need because the whole process would become more anonymous.
“… ultimately, we realise they’ve got a state to run and they’ve got huge decisions to make but I feel they did really listen to what we had to say and they did take on board our concerns.”
During the meeting, ideas were also discussed for the government’s new $22 million VCE Collaboration Fund, which promises greater subject choice for rural and remote students through the expansion of virtual learning, as well as resource sharing between partner schools.
In particular, the Alumni proposed the need for ongoing financial investment in the program, beyond the current pledge of funding for VCE partnerships for up to a year.
The recruitment and retention of quality educators in country schools was also raised in the meeting.
Rebecca McKenzie — who was a member of the inaugural 2011 RYA cohort and who is now a graduate teacher in a rural school — expressed the “critical need” for graduates to access localised professional learning and the opportunity to link with fellow graduates working in similar rural settings.
She proposed a formal scheme allowing rural and remote educators to access “release time”, allowing them to visit other schools in various settings, with the aim of expanding teaching knowledge and approaches, which can then be used in the educator’s own school.
The RYA Alumni equally advocated the need to create stronger links between universities and country schools, proposing the involvement of RYA Alumni as “promoters” in universities, highlighting teaching opportunities that are available in rural and remote communities.