Share via

Supporting primary schools to help with children’s mental wellbeing

Schools are an ideal universal platform to address mental health issues in children – building resilience, creating opportunities for prevention and early intervention, and managing those with problems or referring them for specialist help. 

But teachers can be forgiven for often feeling ill-equipped in this area and daunted by any attempt to navigate a fragmented system to access specialist services.

The Mental Health in Primary Schools Pilot (MHiPS) project began in January 2020, as a partnership between the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute (MCRI) and The Melbourne Graduate School of Education (MGSE), University of Melbourne, and with the strong support and active participation of the Victorian Department of Training. 

The MHiPS model creates a new role in primary schools – an experienced educator who is relieved of the usual teaching responsibilities to focus on the role of Mental Health and Wellbeing Coordinator (MHWC). 

After going through an intensive training program design and delivered by MGSE, the MHWC has three responsibilities – to support classroom teachers, to act as a resource for the whole school, and to act as a liaison between the school and community agencies. 

Ten school took part in a feasibility trial in 2020. In 2021, 26 schools to be a part of the formal evaluation of the model with extremely positive early results. Over 95% of school staff agreed that implementation of the MHWC model had increased the confidence of classroom teachers around this issue and had increased the school’s capacity to support student mental health. In 2022 MHiPS will be expanded to 100 schools across Victoria.

Research by MCRI has identified that rural, regional and remote (RRR) schools face a number of additional barriers to providing mental health support for students. This ranged from poor general mental health literacy among staff and parents and barriers to access to specialist care and allied health services. Among teachers, a lack of time, skills and resources added to the challenge; amplified when coupled with family economic disadvantage and low parental engagement.

“We are very aware that one-size-fits-all model will not adequately address the unique challenges experienced by RRR schools,” said Professor Frank Oberklaid AM, Group Leader of Policy, Equity and Translation at MCRI (and Foundation Director for the Centre for Community Child Health, The Royal Children's Hospital).

A feasibility study into providing RRR schools with multidisciplinary telehealth support, recently been completed by MCRI, is indicating this will become a part of the RRR model for these schools, while the next phase of the research will include focus group collaboration with RRR educators as part of the codesign process. 

Further information can be found here.

This project has been supported by trusts within the Equity Trustees Children & Young People focus area.