Services for children with serious mental health issues were limited or non-existent in many rural and remote areas and Royalties for Regions funding should be invested urgently to redress the imbalance, Children’s Commissioner Michelle Scott has said.
Speaking at the inaugural West Kimberley Youth Sector Conference yesterday, Ms Scott said new metropolitan mental health initiatives included a 24-hour service for children, the refurbishment of Bentley adolescent unit and additional funding for Aboriginal people experiencing mental health problems.
However, her research had shown regional children to be severely disadvantaged in terms of access to early intervention, treatment and support.
In areas like the Kimberley, which has the highest suicide rate in the nation, many services were non-existent, she said. Where they did exist, they were often fragmented or needed many more staff and resources.
No area was more worthy of investment than children's mental health, she said.
“The two areas that require progress, where there has been little progress so far, is in relation to a substantial investment in child and adolescent mental health services across the board and also in regional and remote communities,” Ms Scott said.
In almost every mental health indicator, they and Aboriginal children in particular fared more poorly and there was also a gap in addressing alcohol-related harm.
Ms Scott said the recent Stokes Review, which was highly critical of a lack of beds and shortage of services, had endorsed her recommendations about the need for substantial investment into the area.
The review found an urgent increase in rural child, adolescent and youth beds was needed to improve mental health outcomes, along with after-hours services in rural and remote communities.
Ms Scott said Royalties for Regions should be making a significant, long-term investment into mental health promotion, suicide prevention and early intervention: “We need to be doing a lot more a lot earlier,” she said.
She said children and their parents needed someone to talk to long before a serious mental health problem or serious depression had a chance to develop.
Services also needed to work closely with remote communities to up-skill childcare workers and teachers working with children experiencing trauma or at risk of suicide.
Royalties for Regions should also fund “safe houses” in communities for children to go to when it wasn’t safe to go home, she said.
A spokesman for Royalties for Regions said host of programs and services addressing mental health and general health were already funded, such as the Clontarf Foundation, Foodbank, the Derby Mental Health refurbishment and the North West Drug and Alcohol support program.
However, he acknowledged Ms Scott’s remarks and said any agency was welcome to apply to Royalties for Regions for funding.