Call to aid children of the mentally ill Print

The Melbourne Age, Tuesday 29 August 2000

Children of mentally ill parents continue to be neglected despite government reports since 1993 highlighting their higher suicide risk, according to a national welfare group.

Doctors and welfare experts said it was scandalous that little had been done to provide such children with specialist support services since Human Rights Commissioner Brian Burdekin's inquiry into mental illness exposed their plight in 1993. 

About one million Australians under 21 have a mentally ill parent, according to estimates by the National Network of Adult and Adolescent Children Who Have a Mentally Ill Parent (NNAAMI).

The voluntary community group's convenor, Paul Mckillop, said federal and state governments had failed to establish services in Victoria tailored to children's needs despite multi-million-dollar funding announcements to tackle mental health problems and youth suicide.

"It's deplorable that we've had to talk about this for so many years and yet nobody is listening," said Mr Mckillop, who has a close relative who is mentally ill. "I've got child-protection workers and mental-health workers across the state and the country screaming at our organisation, asking for help and advice. But there's only one of me. It's a ridiculous situation."

Mr Mckillop said the Federal Government's $250-million, five-year national mental health strategy announced in 1998 and administered by the states, had done little nationwide to establish specialist services for such children.

The same year a federal and state health ministers' report said children of the mentally ill were a high-risk group who needed specific programs.
Mr Mckillop said the Federal Government's pledge in 1998 to spend $31 million on youth suicide prevention projects had also not led to specific treatment services.

The lack of progress has alarmed the Australian Doctors Fund.

The organisation's executive director, Stephen Milgate, has written to the federal Health Department raising concerns about the lack of services. "A lot of this mental health money would appear to be flowing into the hands of consultants, ending up as reports adorning the offices of bureaucrats," he said.

Last year the Bracks Government promised an extra $17 million to fund a mental health package for Victorians previously excluded from services. It also promised to consult with NNAAMI about providing services.

Mr Mckillop met bureaucrats from the government's mental health branch last week.
A spokeswoman for Victorian Health Minister John Thwaites said the government would continue to consult with NNAAMI and work out ways of dealing with its concerns.

A spokeswoman for federal Health Minister Dr Michael Wooldridge said the states were responsible for the provision of services.

But last year the Federal Government began a study to help the states identify the needs of children coping with a mentally ill parent and which services should be established.

Copyright permission C. Millburn 2001