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We have changed our name! Kids on the Spectrum is now called Living on the Spectrum

State plan for three infant, child mental health hubs and hiring of overseas workers ‘of concern’

A peak psychology body has slammed Victorian government plans to hire overseas mental health workers and build three child hubs in its bid to address the state’s youth crisis. MANDY SQUIRE Herald Sun.

Australia’s peak psychology body has criticised a plan by the Victorian government to recruit counsellors from overseas and set up just three infant and child mental health hubs, state wide.

Australian Association of Psychologists (AAPi) chief Tegan Carrison said on Monday the plan to bring in mental health workers from England, Ireland and New Zealand, to help address Victoria’s spiralling youth mental health crisis, was concerning.

And the fact there would be just three initial hubs – delivering mental health services for children aged zero to 11, at a total cost of $54m – was “a band-aid measure” that didn’t provide long term solutions.

The hubs were also not a good use of money.

“Research shows these hubs are not cost efficient . . . and while the hubs might service the mental health needs of immediate areas, what about the remainder of the state, in particular rural and remote areas where we know the suffering is immense?” Ms Carrison said.

Victoria should be investing in homegrown workforces and building its own capacity, not turning to overseas workers to fix its problems; with the pandemic clearly showing international workforces could not be relied upon, she said.

Announcing the infant and child hubs plan in the Sunday Herald Sun, Education and Mental Health Minister James Merlino said the specialist centres would provide mental health early intervention and support for little kids, with the aim of identifying and treating childhood developmental, behavioural and emotional issues.

Anxiety is now the number one mental health diagnosis for young Victorians.

A range of specialist health services including paediatricians, psychologists, parenting support and speech pathologists would be offered, under one roof, he said.

Located in the southern Melbourne, Brimbank-Melton and Loddon regions, and set to open in July, the hubs would also provide free assessments for conditions linked to poor mental health, such as autism and ADHD.

It comes as the number of Victorian children feeling “despair” and considering suicide post Covid lockdowns rises, and a top psychiatrist warns urgent intervention is needed to save lives.

Mental illness is now the most common reason for young people visiting doctors, with anxiety the number one issue and the age of children being diagnosed ever younger.

Head of Monash University’s Department of Psychiatry Professor Suresh Sundram said there was “a significant increase in the number of presentations of younger people … (with) eating disorders, self harm and suicidal ideation and intent” in Victoria, post pandemic.

Professor Sundram, who is also director of research for Monash Health’s mental health program, said while current statistics did not show an increase in the number of child suicides, “we need to be extraordinarily vigilant about the potential for the increase, and to be able to respond to young people presenting in crisis … and recognise the seriousness of that”.

He said children urgently needed professional mental health support in schools and also to be reconnected to their communities and social and sporting groups.

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