Kelly has been working in East Gippsland since early 2019, most recently as a Bushfire Recovery Practitioner and prior to that with Student Support Services with the Department of Education and Training.
Kelly works directly with a number of local schools and has seen firsthand the major impacts the recent summer bushfires have had on children and families, with an increase in trauma and other mental health challenges and a surge in complex mental health presentations in schools.
While there has been an increase in mental health support and funding for schools following the bushfires, Kelly said there hasn’t been an increase in services for children under the age of 12.
Counselling services for that age group (under‑12) have been really hard to access in different areas, and that’s been really difficult for schools to manage.
Kelly said that the challenges with access to services in East Gippsland have always been noticeable, but they have been made worse by the impacts of bushfires.
Our area has always struggled with access to the private sector, with being able to get in to see psychologists, and especially people that are experienced in dealing with children.
Kelly explained that schools have led the way in recognising and responding to families and children with mental health challenges, particularly following the summer bushfires. Through existing mental health programs, teachers and staff at schools are being trained in how to approach social and emotional wellbeing for the whole school as well as targeted classroom strategies. Kelly noted this has not been easy.
I also notice that school staff are often required to notice, enquire, respond and case manage the complex cases, often without external support.
I guess the thing that I work on and that I’ve noticed especially is that in this period we’re now also dealing with staff who are traumatised by their own bushfire experiences, which sometimes has impacts across whole school systems.
Kelly explained that there has been an increase in the number of complex cases being presented and that schools need more support to deal with them. She spoke about the benefits of schools and child and youth mental health services working together.
The type of support that was really useful in the past is that schools and mental health services would work together to provide that complex case management of services to families and students.
Kelly said that from her perspective, East Gippsland schools need more support with these complex cases, child and youth mental health services need more staff and the community needs better access to psychologists and counselling services.
Source: RCVMHS, East Gippsland Regional Roundtable: Record of Proceedings, 15 September 2020.