Smiling Mind wants children's minister to safeguard mental health
The Sector > Workforce > Advocacy > Smiling Mind calls for children’s minister to be established as mental health declines

Smiling Mind calls for children’s minister to be established as mental health declines

by Freya Lucas

August 10, 2023

Smiling Mind, a children’s mental health non-profit organisation, is calling for a dedicated federal children’s minister that would see critical funding, research and intervention made available to address what it terms the “dismal” state of mental health and wellbeing for Australian children.


More than 50 per cent of children who are experiencing mental health challenges are not receiving professional help, and waiting lists are “at an all time high,” Smiling Mind CEO and psychologist Dr Addie Wooten shared. 


The Australian Psychological Society recently reported nearly double the number (45 per cent) of Social Anxiety Disorder presentations among 6-12 year olds with an increase of 30 per cent also noted in 18 months to 5 year olds. 


These increasing rates, Dr Wooten noted, demand urgent attention and action, including the appointment of a Commonwealth Minister for Children. 


“With no dedicated federal representation, the fundamental rights and needs of (children) are slipping through the cracks,” she said. 


“While both early childhood education and youth are represented within the Federal Government cabinet, 5-12 year old Australian children effectively sit in a legislative blind-spot.”


Research shows that 50 per cent of all adult mental health issues emerge before the age of 14 years, and Dr Wootten believes investment in prevention and collaboration with all sides of government was key to turning the crisis around. 


“Preventative mental health is drastically underfunded,” she said, “with only 1 per cent of federal funding going towards preventing the rates from continuing to climb. As a result, we are in danger of driving thousands into a system already at breaking point.” 


To support its calls for change, Smiling Mind has launched Our Kids Count, a campaign that seeks to unite the mental health sector, raise awareness of the childhood mental health crisis and advocate for meaningful action. 


The campaign is seeking five urgent actions: 


  1. The appointment of a Federal Minister for Children: currently 5-12 year old children are not represented in the Federal Government’s Cabinet while there is a Minister for Early Childhood Education (birth to 5 years) and a Minister for Youth (12 -24 years). 
  2. Raise the level of government investment in the primary prevention of mental illness from the current levels to 5 per cent of all mental health expenditure and invest in actions to promote mental wellbeing. 
  3. Make children’s mental health and wellbeing a national priority through the formal and funded implementation of The National Children’s Mental Health and Wellbeing Strategy. 
  4. Prioritise the launch of a regular, nation-wide survey of Australian children’s mental health to ensure data is current and supports effective decision making and service design and delivery. 
  5. Formally launch a National Children’s Mental Health Day as part of Australia’s National Children’s Week (Children’s Week 2023 will be held between 21 October – 29 October 2023, aligning with Mental Health Awareness Month), to elevate the voices and stories of children within the broader national mental health awareness agenda.


For further information about Our Kids Count, visit the dedicated website, here

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