RSA Webinar: ‘Patchwork’ of programs failing mental health support in schools

Si Gladman / 25 February 2022

Better coordination of support and more efficient use of funding in schools are needed to address the mental health challenges among children, the latest RSA Webinar heard.

Speaking at Wednesday’s webinar (see recording below), educational psychologist Dr Marilyn Campbell from the Queensland University of Technology said the mental health situation for children was “not very good”, with about 20% of primary school children and 32% of secondary students having some kind of mental ill health.

“I suppose we might be saying that’s probably because of COVID or because of other things that are happening in our society, but, unfortunately, this has been going on for some time. Those figures, which are the latest figures that are available, come from the Young Minds Survey which was conducted in 2013-14.”

Dr Campbell said money was being “wasted” on a “patchwork” of programs.

“It’s not necessarily about funding at that school level. It’s about funding for training to start with. And then it’s about education systems looking nationally instead of always at state level…  There’s lots of really well-meaning organisations who are doing all these kinds of patchwork services for schools,” she said.


“Whether it’s going to provide better support, whether there’s going to be more coordination at an individual school level, or a state or national level, it’s a really hard call.

“I think there are so many well-meaning people who are trying to help, I just wish that we’d have somewhere that we can coordinate more.”

As the media spokesperson for Australian Psychologists and Counsellors in Schools, Dr Campbell said religious chaplains were ill-equipped to support children and should not be in secular schools.

While psychologists and counsellors have tertiary qualifications, chaplains have only recently been required to have a low-level TAFE certificate.

“We oppose chaplains who are only Christian. We, in fact, would oppose chaplains of any faith being in a school to assist children with their mental health,” she said.

“Children are incredibly vulnerable for their mental health while they are at school. And you need a fully trained psychologist or a fully trained counselor who has been a teacher themselves. So most school counselors are teachers and psychologists, or teachers and counselors, with master’s university training.

“Chaplains, up until a few years ago, did not have to have any training whatsoever. They now have to have a paid certificate… I think it’s only a certificate III. Now, that does not qualify them. They say they do no couselling. I can’t understand how they differentiate counselling and talking to a child who has mental health problems.”

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Si Gladman is Campaigns & Communications Coordinator at the Rationalist Society of Australia. You can contact him at sigladman@rationalist.com.au or follow him on Twitter at @si_gladman

All the more reason.