Step towards one psychologist per 500 students welcomed

Central Coast Council P&C spokesperson, Sharryn Brownlee

Central Coast Council P&C (CCCP&C) has welcomed an announcement that the Federal Government is considering introducing a ratio of one psychologist per 500 students in schools amid concerns for the mental health of the region’s schoolchildren.

CCCP&C spokesperson, Sharryn Brownlee, said there were not enough school counsellors to support children, with more promised by the State Government.

“Hopefully, with the support of the recent Federal Government committee recommendations adding extra pressure, we will finally get the ratio needed to help ensure children are safe and supported,” Brownlee said.

“The stress on children and young people has been increased due to COVID and multiple lockdowns.

“There is also more stress at home for families and at school for students and staff; this in turn places extra stress and creates even bigger issues for the counsellors to deal with when finally a child can get an appointment.

“The wait to see a counsellor is unacceptable for young people at risk, and as there are still not the counsellors needed, governments must do more to ensure there are more employed, more stay working for them and the counsellors themselves do not suffer burnout.

“CCCP&C is concerned that with the pressures of juggling multiple cases and continually being short staffed, trained staff have been leaving the system and then children and families are unable to access the support they desperately need.

“There is no better place to support a child then in the school they attend.

“Many were concerned the dual employment solution with both counsellors and psychologists might raise issues.

“More needed to be done to recruit and maintain counselling staff, as many reviews continue to show.

“Inequity is always an issue; staffing needs to be sorted so children do not continue to suffer.”

Brownlee said teachers and parents were trying to fill the gaps in counselling shortfalls.

“Trained experts are what is needed to save lives,” she said.

The Public Sector Association (PSA) said a lack of recognition of psychologists’ qualifications in the education system was leading to a high churn in the workforce.

“There is a mental health crisis in NSW schools and the best people to help kids are school psychologists,” PSA General Secretary, Stewart Little, said.

“But currently, because of ongoing job insecurity and poor conditions, there’s a revolving door of psychologists though schools and kids are missing out.”

The PSA has called on the NSW Department of Education to develop a new award.

“Currently school counsellors, who are former teachers and have some psychological training, have access to school holidays and greater flexibility within in the system – conditions school psychologists can’t access,” Little said.

“School psychologists aren’t asking for more money or better conditions than their colleagues – they just want working conditions that fairly represent the work they do within the school environment.”

Recently, the Federal Parliamentary Select Committee on Mental Health and Suicide Prevention released 44 recommendations to improve the mental health system, which is at “a tipping point”, including introducing a student to psychologist ratio of one to 500.

Terry Collins

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