Through the eyes of our children and families: The Centre’s statement on the Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System Final Report

  • The Centre welcomes the Commission’s recommendations focused on redesigning the mental health system to deliver a rights-based approach to service delivery, as well as recommendations to address prevention and mental health promotion for infants, children and new parents.
  • As Victoria’s peak body for children, young people and their families, the Centre is disappointed families in contact with child protection will continue to miss out on opportunities to improve their mental wellbeing.
  • COVID-19 has had adverse impacts on mental health for many already struggling families, and targeted support for children, young people and their families is more crucial than ever.

Infants, children and families living in poverty, experiencing family violence or in contact with the child protection and justice systems regularly miss out on critical opportunities to improve mental wellbeing and break cycles of disadvantage.

Today, the Final Report of the Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System was released. It contains 65 recommendations for change, in addition to the nine recommendations included in the interim report. The Victorian Government has committed to delivering each and every one.

As implementation work now begins, it is critical to consider how infants, children and families experiencing disadvantage and vulnerability will be supported by the mental health system and connected service systems in the future.

In our submission to the Commission, the Centre called for dedicated, targeted services and supports for children entering and in out-of-home care and for investment in evidence-based models for parents experiencing mental health challenges to address the rising number of children entering out-of-home care.

While we welcome the recommendation to deliver evidence-informed online parenting programs and group-based parenting sessions, we are concerned that the vague nature of this recommendation will mean the families most in need will miss out. We know that the COVID-19 pandemic and associated restrictions have had adverse impacts on mental health for many already struggling families and exacerbated existing challenges including access to services.

The Centre is deeply disappointed that no recommendations directly address the needs of children and their families in contact with child protection. This is a missed opportunity for building a strong foundation for a child’s life and their future and is surprising given that the Commission estimated in their interim report that child protection sees an additional $41.8 million in costs due to poor mental health.

Infant mental health was featured strongly in the Centre’s submission and has been central to our advocacy to the Commission. We therefore welcome acknowledgment that the early years has been a key gap in current service responses which has meant missed opportunities for prevention and mental health promotion for infants, children and new parents.

The Commission has recommended transformational changes focused on redesigning the mental health system to deliver a rights-based approach to service delivery. We were very pleased to see lived experience front and centre and were moved by the stories people shared to inform the Commission’s work.

The new system will contain several streams, with people able to move between these at any point according to their needs and will be restructured around ‘a community-based model of care, where people access treatment, care and support close to their homes and in their communities’.

The key response to the early years gap is a recommendation to deliver 13 Infant, Child and Youth Area Mental Health and Wellbeing Services that will provide tertiary-level, high-intensity and complex support responses when needed. These responsive and integrated services will provide developmentally appropriate treatment, care and support for newborns to 25-year-olds through two age-based service streams to be established by the end of 2022.

We are pleased to note that the Infant, Child and Family Area Mental Health and Wellbeing Services and Youth Area Mental Health and Wellbeing Services will work with child protection principal practitioners and practitioners from ChildFIRST/The Orange Door to deliver their function of supporting primary and secondary services. Highly commendable is that each of these services will employ up to three specialist trauma practitioners and will also participate in shared care with Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisations.

The Centre also strongly welcomes the dismantling of rigid catchments and the directive that service providers will not be able to turn people away based on where they live. The report contains strong recommendations for improving mental health services in regional and rural areas and ensuring the people living in these areas receive the full benefits of integrated and local service systems. This will be supported through the provision of additional resources for regional services to reach small or geographically isolated rural communities and targeted workforce recruitment and retention.

Recommendations to ease pressure on the system, such as delivering additional beds, are highly necessary to address the crisis we currently face and will improve overall experiences of and access to the system for children and families. However, these measures do not provide the targeted and early supports that families experiencing disadvantage need to break the cycle.

The Centre thanks the Commission for their work and looks forward to working with the Victorian Government to build stronger connections between child and family services and the mental health system to ensure that children and families experiencing vulnerability and disadvantage do not miss out as these system changes take place.

Download the final report and a summary.

Further analysis from the Centre will be available in the days to come. Read the Centre’s submission to the Commission.

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