Specialised education services are provided in a range of ways by the Queensland Department of Education. Where students with health issues are concerned, there are a couple of main banners under which these fall i.e.
- under the auspices of the Queensland Children’s Hospital School
- as a gazetted “special school” where a student cohort can have shared challenges or a diverse range of health issues
(Some young people with health issues are able to access education via the School of Distance Education which caters for a number of special situations. However young people with severe and complex mental health issues can find the program unable to meet their particular needs.)
The most significant programs that focus solely on young people with severe mental health issues are the education service offered at Jacaranda Place (the AETC) and the Barrett Adolescent Special School. Both are in Brisbane although with Jacaranda Place offering a statewide service for inpatients as well as a Day Program, for the time that young people are resident at Jacaranda Place, an education program that meets individual needs is facilitated by the teachers at the centre. So for that time, students from across the state benefit from the service. The Barrett Special School at Tennyson operates as a Support School for young people in the Brisbane area whose severe mental health issues have meant they have become disengaged from education. Its specialised program fosters skills and knowledge that allow young people to embark on paths that were previously inaccessible.
Both kinds of service are essential. But because the AETC program is only available to young people receiving treatment at the centre and the Barrett School is for students whose mental health issues are severe and chronic but not life-threatening, with youth mental health issues continuing to escalate, it would seem that there is a deficit in service provision for the ‘Support School’ cohort beyond the capital city. With specialised youth mental health services offered in regional hubs like Gladstone, Cairns, the Gold Coast etc., it is logical to assume that there is likely to be a need for the kind of school that reconnects severely affected young people with learning and with the opportunities to develop that only a mental health dedicated education program can provide. (See more under The Future of Education in Severe Youth Mental Health.)
BARRETT ADOLESCENT SPECIAL SCHOOL
When the Barrett Adolescent Centre at Wacol was closed in 2013/14, the comprehensive treatment service it offered to young people with severe and complex mental health issues ceased to exist. The onsite school, however, was moved and continued to provide education to, initially, the former patients of the centre who were able to access the service at its temporary home at Yeronga High School. From 2015 on though, the school has been based at Tennyson and has become something that didn’t previously exist in Queensland – if anywhere. A Support School for young people with severe mental health issues. The program evolved because referrals continued to come from school guidance officers around the greater Brisbane area. And it became very clear that there was a cohort of young people in the community affected by severe mental health issues who required a specialised education service.
These young people are not at risk of loss of life (as those who require extended inpatient healthcare often are) but they do all risk the loss of a future where they can live independently and productively in the community. With mental health issues that mean that services like special schools, distance education or a modified program at a community school fail to meet their specific needs, too many young people become totally disengaged from education. Some can become isolated from any kind of social interaction as a result and from there, the opportunities to grow and learn at a key stage of development will also disappear. Mental health issues can deteriorate further and dependency on family, carers and other support can increase. Although they can receive treatment that can begin to enable them to manage their health challenges, this is a group of young people that will remain disconnected from education. UNLESS a Support School that provides the flexible environment and program facilitated by expert educators with a genuine understanding of severe youth mental health issues can be the bridge back to learning.
The Barrett School team has developed a strong knowledge base and depth of experience that has become invaluable. They were able to adapt their service and upskill to enable case management of their community-based students which includes practices that ensure productive liaison with guidance officers and base schools as well as clinicians, families and further academic pursuits, vocational training and work experience opportunities.
To access the program, each student needs to have their own Clinical Care Provider/ Providers (CCP) and they must keep their relationship up with these professionals. The CCPs are part of any planning and receive a weekly email from the Barrett education team.
PROGRAMS AND SERVICES
Each student has an individual learning plan and the strategies (which are regularly reviewed and updated) that are most likely to give the best outcomes are developed by the whole school team in liaison with all stakeholders. Specialist duties performed by the staff are based around an enacted Complex Case Model with outreach and consultation services also available where needed. As young people engage in learning, their goals may change as they become more aware of their capacities and the different pathways that exist. The dynamic nature of the learning plan and the experiences offered by the education team enables meaningful and lasting progress.
The teaching team prioritises open, supportive and honest communication on a regular basis with families and carers. P & C Meetings and parent support meetings are held onsite and families and carers receive weekly emails as well as being included in celebrations around their young person’s success and group celebration days/ gatherings.
What has been learned by the educators has become a unique resource that, when put into action elsewhere, could benefit young people far beyond Brisbane and Queensland. But for now, young people around Brisbane have a place that understands their need for a gradual, individualised approach to reconnecting with formal learning and the curriculum in an empowering, strengths based program. (And the effectiveness of the innovative service has been recognised at a federal level.) With the serious repercussions of a global pandemic combining with what was already a youth health issues in epidemic proportions and on the rise, the Support School model must be developed and replicated throughout the state. And further. It can be the difference between a young person becoming an effective contributing member of their community and living a life without hope, connection, autonomy or satisfaction.
You can read more about the role of a Support School here.
JACARANDA PLACE AETC
With the education program at Jacaranda Place operating under the leadership of the Executive Principal of the Queensland Children’s Hospital School (along with a number of other distinct education services in hospital and health settings), the Campus Principal of the Jacaranda Place education program also oversees the education offered at the Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital. (The RBWH service is for both patients in adolescent acute mental healthcare unit and other patients with different chronic health issues across the hospital. However, the adolescent unit’s classroom addresses the potential trauma that young people with severe mental health issues can have in environments with too much unfamiliarity and unpredictability as the Campus Principal reassures that “all classrooms that are attached to mental health wards and programs aim to deliver safe, supportive and respectful learning environments” and “staff members are trained in and draw upon trauma informed practices in the classrooms”.)
The AETC education program at Chermside is a part of the multidisciplinary approach that Jacaranda Place provides. Inpatient students and those receiving healthcare from the Day Program’s treatment team are at the centre of the planning and implementation of their education goals in the same way that they are the drivers of their healthcare treatment. Education staff attend daily handovers and meet frequently with clinical teams to share information and communicate regarding ongoing objectives and activities. And because each young person steers their education to achieve their personal goals, the timetable is dynamic and flexible. With 4 teachers, 2 teacher aides and a full-time guidance officer, students can be involved in group activities or individual pursuits; they can be working towards exams and academic qualifications; or they can be undertaking activities that have a vocational purpose or a practical objective (e.g. getting a permit to learn to drive or to work on a construction site, writing a CV for job applications, undertaking barista training with the AETC’s in-house equipment).
“The teaching team support each student to develop and pursue their own individualised education goals according to the learning pathway they want to pursue.. …every student receives the support needed to engage purposefully in learning and experience success.”
With the majority of students, of prime importance is maintaining a link to their base school in the community while attending Jacaranda Place. That school could be a local state school, a private school, one of the Queensland Pathways State College campuses* or – if they have been disengaged from education for an extended period – an appropriate school facilitated for them by the guidance officer.
The education objective for every student is that they are able to achieve something during their time at Jacaranda Place. And when a young person moves to a new environment, the Jacaranda Place education team remains available to support the student as they transition.
SUPPORT BEYOND THE AETC
As the BACCOI highlighted the fact that there is a lack of an evidence base on the services that are effective with the severe and complex youth cohort, it is extremely positive that the Jacaranda Place education team are aiming to share what they find to be successful through designing training programs and other forms of professional development for other educators throughout Queensland. Staff have already been trained on Project ECHO – a videoconference platform for case base learning that allows for a collaborative peer to peer learning environment as a means to build staff capability and reduce isolation.
* Queensland Pathways State College is a state school dedicated to providing senior transitions programs for students in Years 10-12 who face significant barriers in accessing mainstream education. One of the campuses may be a beneficial environment for young people whose mental health issues are not severe or for a young person with severe or complex issues to transition to following progress with a mental health specialised education service like those listed above.