By Mikayla van Loon
Funding for the appointment of a dedicated mental health and wellbeing leader in every state-run primary school has been welcomed by a local school principal.
Chirnside Park’s Victoria Road Primary School principal Lisa Branch said having one person who can oversee the wellbeing of the students will be of great benefit to the school.
“One of the challenges for schools is pulling together all of the spreads that make up a wellbeing package for children or wellbeing support for children,” she said.
“So having somebody that has an overview of what’s happening within the school and how we can address the needs of individual children and groups of children would be a real benefit.”
While Victoria Road already has a wellbeing and mental health coordinator, Ms Branch said getting the position funded by the government means resources and funding can be freed for other essential programs, roles or facilities.
Given the last two years of turmoil in the classroom, Ms Branch said primary school students are really feeling the effects of anxiety and lack of social awareness from being isolated from their peers.
“[There was a] reliance on social media which ended up being a replacement for social interaction. Of course, we all know social media causes a level of anxiety in children because it’s a tool that isn’t designed for children to use but children have ongoing access to it.
“That mismatch between their cognitive development and the tools they’re given access to creates anxiety and given they weren’t able to have these other social interactions, social media was just so heavily relied on.”
Ms Branch said although these issues are then translating into a school environment right across the board in age, it is presenting differently in every student.
From learning difficulties in the younger year levels to social interaction challenges in the older grades, Ms Branch said what is compounding these issues is the waitlist to see child psychologists.
“What we’re seeing is that schools are being at the forefront of addressing these needs now, which if we’re equipped better to do it, we will be more successful at that work. But it’s critical that those needs are addressed and in those earlier stages of the child’s life.”
Pleased the government has taken this step towards better mental health for primary school children, Ms Branch said she believes it adds to the amazing work many government schools do to address these growing issues.
“I think government schools are excellent at candidly and openly discussing mental health and the impact that it has,” she said.
“Our children regularly talk about their feelings, talk about their experience and about being accepting of other people.
“To see the money put behind this, from our State government is great. I’m really excited to see that that’s been acknowledged because it is work that’s happening but it can happen better with that funding behind it. [It’s] a really positive step.”