16 June 2023

'Building on what works': where the ACT Government will spend $28 million slated for mental health

| Claire Fenwicke
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Safe Haven Belconnen

The Safe Haven Cafe in Belconnen has proven so successful the ACT Government will build a second one at The Canberra Hospital. Photo: ACT Health.

Two Federally funded mental health programs have been handed lifelines in the form of ACT Government money in the upcoming budget.

Youth mental health services WOKE (provided through the University of Canberra) and CatholicCare’s Stepping Stones both operate in Canberra, however had been established off the back of Commonwealth money.

With both their pilots coming to an end, the ACT Government has had to step in to keep them going.

Mental Health Minister Emma Davidson slammed the Commonwealth for not appearing to have a plan in place to make sure they could continue in the long run, and said they were now looking at their federal counterparts to “do the right thing here”.

“They were the ones that started these programs, we’ve been able to demonstrate that they are successful programs,” she said.

“What we’ve done here is make sure [they] can continue while we’re working with the Commonwealth on how do we make sure this becomes a permanent feature of our mental health service landscape in the ACT.”

WOKE received $204,000 for the 2023/24 financial year, while Stepping Stones was allocated $445,208.

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The money is part of $28 million in mental health funding announced ahead of the 2023/24 ACT Budget.

Chief Minister Andrew Barr said the aim was to build on the Territory’s current capabilities, support non-government partners and providers, as well as expand the “quality and quantity” of mental health services available in Canberra.

“This investment is multi-faceted, both in new infrastructure and new programs, programs that are delivered in a hospital setting, in a community setting and in partnership with a number of non-government providers,” he said.

The bulk of the investment is going to support the operation of the ACT’s first residential eating disorders centre in Coombs, which has received $17.3 million over four years.

The facility is being built thanks to $13.5 million in Commonwealth funds.

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Another $2.3 million will be for a second Safe Haven facility to be built on the Canberra Hospital campus.

Ms Davidson said this was based off the success of the pilot model in Belconnen.

“When we find something that works, like Safe Havens, we want to do more of that, and that’s exactly what we’re committing to,” she said.

“We’ve seen how successful it is, how much of a difference it is making in people’s lives, and we want to build on that.”

Ms Davidson said it would be possible for people who present to the hospital’s emergency department with mental health needs could also be referred to the on-campus Safe Haven as an alternative for treatment where appropriate.

“For many people though, our experience with the Safe Haven in Belconnen is, what they need is someone who has the professional skills to help them stay connected to the right supports in the community, can talk them through what they’re experiencing right now, and help them stay on track,” she said.

“We’re looking at how we can provide more early intervention services, more services that are delivered out in the community so that people don’t reach the point where they need to go to hospital as often, or even at all.”

Other investments include $4.3 million over four years for community-based residential accommodation for people with mental health needs, $2 million to continue and establish complementary mental health services for children and young people, and the extension of the second Police, Ambulance and Clinician Early Response (PACER) team for a further nine months.

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Government creates problem, government wants praise for spending money claiming to solve the problem.

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