NSW Labor has called on the Liberal-National Government to extend the length of time mental health counsellors are posted to bushfire-impacted schools following reports that the mental health support worker at Batlow Technology School has already departed the school a few weeks into the term, less than two months since bushfires devastated the region.
When asked on Tuesday during Budget Estimates whether any counsellors placed in bushfire-affected schools had been removed, Education Minister Sarah Mitchell said that their initial commitment was four weeks but they are continuing to work with schools on a case-by-case basis.
“We made the commitment that we would work with school communities to put that extra mental health support in, that is what we did from the beginning of the term, it was for a four week period, but we have also made the commitment that basically we will stay until the school indicates that they’re no longer required and we’ll take guidance from the principals and school communities as to how long they’re there for,” Ms Mitchell said.
When asked specifically whether the counsellor had been removed from Batlow Technology School, Ms Mitchell said she would take the question “on notice”, in other words, let me find out and get back to you.
Labor then requested on notice a list of all the bushfire impacted schools, how many counsellors were made available, if any of them have been reduced since that four-week period, and how long the Government is planning to keep them on site.
Shadow Minister for Education Prue Car has called for the Government to guarantee ongoing counsellor support in school communities struck by bushfires.
“The Government needs to extend the employment of these mental health workers in our schools so our children can get the support they need in dealing with one of the worst bushfire seasons we have had on record in this country,” Ms Car said.
“More than ever these communities need school counsellors. The Minister needs to act today.”
Shadow Minister for Mental Health Tara Moriarty added: “It is well known that trauma from natural disasters is felt by communities long after tragedy has struck.
“The stress and trauma as a result of these devastating events must be addressed by the Government,” Ms Moriarty said.
“The bushfires have traumatised everyone, we need to ensure people in these communities have access to timely and appropriate mental health support now and over the coming months.”