26 September 2023

Kids and families keep suffering from COVID

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A survey by the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has found that Australia’s children and their families need to be given better support from schools and mental health services to deal with the problems raised by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The AHRC’s National Children’s Commissioner, Anne Hollonds said the survey found children most commonly sought mental health support from their families, friends and schools but the networks were often poorly equipped to provide appropriate help, “leaving children vulnerable”.

Commissioner Hollonds said the survey report, ‘Mental health shapes my life’: COVID-19 & kids’ wellbeing 2022, revealed that 41 per cent of young respondents said the pandemic had a negative impact on their mental health and wellbeing.

“COVID has shown us that policy designed for adults often overlooks the unique needs of children, and that service systems are fragmented and not fit-for-purpose,” Commissioner Hollonds said.

“This survey shows that many children and young people missed out on critical support during the COVID-19 pandemic,” she said.

“We need to redesign our basic systems that are meant to support children and their families, including health, education and social services, and we should implement the National Children’s Mental Health and Wellbeing Strategy.”

Commissioner Hollonds said Australia needed to ensure better understanding about mental health among parents, promote open discussions about mental health, and equip families with resources and access to professional help when needed.

She also said the way people thought about schools needed to change and schools needed to be recognised as important hubs of support for children and families in local communities.

“Schools are about more than just academic learning and need better co-ordination with local health and social services, as well as relevant training and support for teachers and school administrators,” Commissioner Hollonds said.

“Children also require better access to in-person counselling, but according to figures from the National Mental Health Commission, only 10 per cent of psychiatrists and only five per cent of psychologists in Australia are qualified to specialise in children and adolescents,” she said.

“This is a massive workforce shortage leaving children without the mental health services they need.”

The Commissioner said her eight recommendations in the Report sought to make systemic changes to Australia’s approach towards children’s mental health and wellbeing, “both in emergency situations and in post-pandemic Australia”.

“What emerges clearly from this work (and that of others) is that children’s mental health and wellbeing was already a significant concern in Australia well before the pandemic,” she said.

The 153-page Survey Report can be downloaded at this PS News link and a 20-page child-friendly version of the Report at this link.

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