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The mental health of our children and young people remain a priority

Placing a stronger priority on children’s mental health, increased mental health prevention and early intervention services, and targeted programs for vulnerable children are key recommendations of a report tabled in the WA Parliament by the Commissioner for Children and Young People Colin Pettit.

The report, Our Children Can’t Wait, provides an overview of progress made in the provision of much-needed mental health programs following the Commissioner’s 2011 Inquiry into the mental health and wellbeing of WA children and young people, and makes 12 new recommendations.

The review found that while progress has been made in some areas, particularly increased services for young people aged 16 to 25 years, significant gaps remain.

Commissioner Colin Pettit said there needs to be greater recognition that lifelong positive mental health begins at pregnancy and there is an imperative to establish a strong foundation of positive mental health in childhood and early adolescence.

“I acknowledge and welcome that the Western Australian Mental Health, Alcohol and Other Drug Services Plan 2015-2025 released this week makes recommendations that, if funded, would improve mental health services,” Mr Pettit said.

“I am concerned that while there is ongoing focus and drive to improve services for 16 to 25 year-olds, services and programs for children and providing support to their parents are not currently given equal priority, despite the recent Young Minds Matter survey findings that almost 14 per cent of 4 to 17 year-olds have a mental disorder.”

“Similarly, there is currently a focus on services for those who are experiencing severe mental illness, and this is vital, but we must establish the full spectrum of services and programs that promote positive mental health, and enable early intervention when mental health problems first arise.”

Key recommendations of Our Children Can’t Wait include an expansion in the number of Child and Parent Centres, and for the services they provide to include mental health programs, more equitable access to quality parenting advice and support, and the development of more flexible and innovative methods to improve services to children and young people in regional and remote areas.

The capacity of schools must also be strengthened to provide better access to mental health and wellbeing services for children and young people and their families, as this is where the vast majority of children spend significant amounts of time.