Mentally healthy primary schools: A state-wide initiative to increase the capacity of schools to support children



In recent years there has been increasing policy attention paid to child mental health, at a state and national level, given the marked increase in mental health problems in children. In addition to causing distress for children and families, when mental health difficulties are not addressed in a timely way, they can become entrenched and have serious effects into adult life. These include poor learning and social outcomes, increased rates of unemployment, suicide, family violence, substance misuse, and generally a lower quality of life.

In 2020 the Centre for Community Child Health at the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute partnered with the Graduate School of Education at the University of Melbourne to conceptualise and deliver an initiative to build the capacity of schools to address child mental health issues. Following a successful pilot in 2020-2022, the Victorian government announced a $200 million investment to expand the Mental Health in Primary Schools Program (MHiPS) to every government and low-fee non-government primary school – over 1,800 campuses in the State. By term 1 2026, each of these schools will employ a Mental Health and Wellbeing Coordinator to implement a whole-school approach to mental health and wellbeing for students, staff and families.

This presentation will outline the history and evolution of MHiPS, detail the model and the training, and present the valuation results.

This presentation is part of the MCRI Population Health Showcase.


Professor Frank Oberklaid is an internationally recognised authority and advocate for children’s health. He was the Founding Director of the Centre for Community Child Health for 25 years and is co-group leader of Policy and Equity at the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute. Frank has focused on helping children with developmental and behavioural problems through research-based programs. He recently developed the Mental Health in Primary Schools Program that aims is to reduce children’s mental health issues through prevention and early intervention.

Dr Simone Darling is a Research Fellow, Social Innovation Lead and Senior Program Manager at MCRI who has more than a decade of experience leading translational research initiatives across health and education in both clinical and community settings. Dr Darling’s research and policy focus has been on building the capacity of primary schools to better support student mental health, changing the language of child mental health, typical and atypical childhood development, and digital health innovation and translation in paediatric care.

Ms Rachel Smith manages the research team for the Mental Health in Primary Schools project.   She has a background in child and educational psychology and is an experienced project manager on large-scale child and adolescent health projects at the MCRI.

Dr Georgia Dawson works across private psychological practice, academic research and teaching at the Melbourne Graduate School of Education, University of Melbourne and is an Honorary Research Associate at MCRI. Georgia is currently heading up the training component of the Mental Health in Primary Schools project.  She is a Senior lecturer with the Learning Interventions Group at University of Melbourne Graduate School of Education, and lectures in child development, exceptionalities and learning interventions for several postgraduate courses. Georgia completed her PhD in Psychology, investigating the construct of mindfulness in education and its utility for children and youth.


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