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COMMUNITY AFFAIRS REFERENCES COMMITTEE
31/03/2010
Suicide in Australia

CHAIR —Welcome. I know you have done this before and I understand that you have been given information on parliamentary privilege and the protection of witnesses and evidence.

Ms Scott —Yes, I have.

CHAIR —We have your submission. I invite you to make an opening statement and then we will ask you some questions.

Ms Scott —Thank you very much for the opportunity to appear before you today. For those of you I have not met before, I am Western Australia’s first Commissioner for Children and Young People. I took up my appointment in December 2007. My functions and the principles under which I conduct all my activities are set out in the Commissioner for Children and Young People Act which was passed in the Western Australian parliament in 2006. I have a very broad mandate, which is to promote policies, laws, services and programs that enhance the wellbeing of all children and young people under the age of 18. There are currently 500,000 young people under the age of 18.

I must also give priority to Aboriginal children and young people. There are about 26,000 in Western Australia. They comprise about 44 per cent of the Aboriginal population, whereas children and young people who are not Aboriginal comprise about 25 per cent of our total population. I also must give priority to other children who might be vulnerable or disadvantaged.

Since I took up my appointment in December 2007 I have travelled extensively. This has helped inform me in terms of the priorities which I have taken as commissioner because, as you could appreciate, everything to do with children and young people is a huge agenda. Travelling throughout the state has been of great assistance to me, to meet with children; with young people; with their families; and with service providers, both within the government and the not-for-profit sector. It is in that capacity as commissioner that I appear before you today.

Firstly, I would like to say that I am not an expert in suicide. However, the mental health and the mental wellbeing of children and young people has been a priority of mine. I have provided to you today a copy of an issues paper, which my office released late last year. It gives some of the context for some of the comments that I would like to make today. If I could draw your attention to the mental health facts that one in six children and young people have a mental health problem; that 25 per cent of parents and carers think their child needs special help for emotional problems; that Aboriginal children and young people are at a significantly higher risk of mental health problems; and that in the area of mental health Australian children rank 13, out of 23 OECD countries, and that Aboriginal children rank 23 out of 24 countries.

In Western Australia we have had a significant increase in population of young people, but particularly in birth rates. So, since 2002, we have had a 35 per cent increase in births, and services in Western Australia have failed to keep up with that growth. There are significant early intervention services such as child health nurses, child development workers who assess learning difficulties and also physical difficulties such as speech impediments and so forth. There are significant delays in parents accessing those services here in Perth in the metropolitan area. We have had three parliamentary inquiries at the state level that have found significant shortcomings in terms of early intervention, health services for children and their families. In some cases, families are waiting 12 to 18 months for an assessment.

In terms of mental health services specifically, mental health services also have failed to keep pace with the growing population and the birth rate. Everywhere I have travelled throughout the state, families and service providers have raised with me the lack of access to appropriate mental health services. You would be aware that in some regions in Western Australia not only is there a lack of services but in some cases they are non-existent. For example, in the whole of the Kimberley there is not one child health psychologist employed by mental health services yet, when you travel to any number of communities in the Kimberley, families and service providers will talk to you about the enormous needs that children have. If I could talk about some of those communities: Fitzroy, Halls Creek, where alcohol restrictions are in place—and I have supported those in response to particularly families and women calling for greater safety for themselves and for their children. I have been to Fitzroy on two occasions, the most recent visit was before Christmas, and every service provider in Fitzroy—including the police, the school, welfare agencies and the Women’s Resource Centre—raised with me the serious concerns they have about mental health services for children in Fitzroy. I understand that there is a child and adolescent mental health social worker, just by accident, working in Fitzroy because her partner works at the school. Everywhere I went people said they needed 10 of that person to meet the needs of Fitzroy. There are incredibly significant challenges, even in the really small community of Fitzroy.

One of the points I have made as commissioner is that even though you might introduce, as a community and with government support, alcohol restrictions, you need a whole range of services that come behind that, including parenting programs, alcohol and rehabilitation services, and early childhood services such as good quality child care and playgroups. You also need strong mental health services. That is by way of example. In the metropolitan area there are highly variable services. Last week I was in Northam and Merredin. Although those wheat belt communities have given a priority to mental health services with their resource allocation, they told me of the significant delays in children and their families accessing mental health services.

I do not want to labour the point too much about other services, but I would like to report to the committee that, everywhere I go, people call for more parenting programs, and that is critical to healthy parents. Every mental health worker calls for more parenting programs. When we look at issues like suicide or mental health, it is very important to see that it is multifaceted and those early intervention services and programs and policies which strengthen families strengthen the mental health wellbeing of children.

Senator ADAMS —I am sorry I was a little bit delayed in getting back for your opening statement. The three of us in this committee are very familiar with Fitzroy because we are also members of the Select Committee on Regional and Remote Indigenous Communities, so we have had quite a lot of involvement with the community. Do you report back on these issues to government? Could you give us an example of your reporting process and, when you have identified all those issues, how you can get government attention? That is probably the best way to put it.

Ms Scott —I use a whole range of means to try to influence policy and practice and legislation. Mental health is a priority for me. We have done a number of things in that area. Firstly, I have produced two annual reports to the West Australian parliament. I do not report to a minister; I report to a parliamentary committee, a joint house standing committee. I have raised the issue of mental health and some of the things that I have talked with you about in my two annual reports. I meet regularly with my committee and I also meet regularly with ministers. I have met with the state Minister for Health.

I have welcomed the development here in Western Australia. Members are probably aware that mental health has been a part of the health department and the state government has recently announced the Mental Health Commission, which will be separate. I have supported that because I think it is very important that mental health gets its due priority, and I think the establishment of a mental health commission will do that. What I have said though is that it is very important that children and young people are given a priority within the new Mental Health Commission. I have met with the acting commissioner to discuss strategies and ways in which we might take that forward and work together.

If you talk to people working in mental health services in Western Australia, it becomes very clear that children and young people have not been given a priority, not just across the board but particular groups, and I have identified Aboriginal children and young people. The Telethon Institute for Child Health Research identified in the late nineties through their Aboriginal health survey the significant problems that Aboriginal children were facing in relation to their mental health. There are also children in the care of the CEO of the Department for Child Protection. We have about 3,000 children in care. They require significant mental health supports. Children in juvenile detention also require significant supports. There is no dedicated, forensic mental health service for children in Western Australia. Those children have very complex needs. Children living in situations of family violence, where alcohol is an issue and where a parent may also have a mental illness, have special needs in relation to their mental health as well.

To date, to answer your question, I have raised these issues. I am looking to strengthen my partnership with the Mental Health Commission now that it is being established to see what further initiatives we can take to ensure that children are given a priority in this area.

Senator ADAMS —Do you have an involvement with schools?

Ms Scott —I do. I visit schools regularly. I also meet with the minister for education and the director-general. Visiting schools is a great source of information. Recently I was in Northam Primary School, which has a 51 per cent Aboriginal population. The staff talked with me about some of the significant issues, including mental health, that some of those children are facing.

Senator MOORE —Ms Scott, we will be speaking with the coroner next. One of the things that has come out is the way that stats are maintained across the states. As you would expect, they are not coordinated, which is an issue as well. I come from Queensland, and they have done particular work with the statistics on young people who have committed suicide. I am wondering whether you are aware of any similar work in WA and whether, talking with your counterpart in Queensland, there has been any interaction about the methodologies and the reasons for doing that.

Ms Scott —No, there has not been. I meet reasonably regularly with the commissioner in Queensland, and the commissioners generally are meeting and cooperating on a number of issues. I am not aware of that work which the Queensland commissioner has undertaken, but thank you for that information.

I have highlighted that here in WA we do not report on a whole range of indicators in relation to children and young people. We do not have comprehensive data—or we may have it, but it is invisible. So one of the initiatives that I have proposed here for the early years of a child’s life is that we, firstly, have a plan about what we want to do, so we have an early years plan, and that we also develop a monitoring framework, based on the Victorian model, with a number of indicators. That also would include mental wellbeing but not necessarily suicide. I have recommended that we report on a regular basis, every two years, on how children are faring in Western Australia. It is along the same lines as what you are suggesting, except that your proposal is in relation to suicide. I think it is very worthwhile. There is a lot of information in government agencies, but it is not presented in a holistic, integrated way so that the public policymakers can make good use of it.

Senator MOORE —The Ethnic Communities Council gave evidence earlier today and made specific reference to what they consider to be issues for young people who have come here from areas of turmoil, through the asylum process or through the assisted migration process. The representative commented on the fact that there are special needs there which may not have been identified effectively. In particular, they concern victims of trauma and young people who have issues with language and fitting into an education system which is focused on your age rather than your capability. In your work, have you had any particular issue with young people who have come through those processes?

Ms Scott —Yes, definitely. At the primary school level we have two initiatives here in Western Australia, at two schools, as part of an integrated service model. I visited those two schools, Parkwood and Koondoola. One is in the northern suburbs and one is in the southern suburbs. That is at the primary school level, where a significant number of children have come from other countries, through a variety of means. This model is all about bringing allied services onto the school site so that families can be more fully supported. They had an evaluation of that model and that evaluation showed how successful the model is.

I am a great supporter of integrated service models, particularly for disadvantaged families but all families are asking for them so you have one place that you can go to get the help that you need. School are a good, natural hub in the community for that. Notwithstanding that good model, there are particular challenges that those communities face in coming to Australia around interacting with government agencies and seeking out help. They have particular vulnerability. Those issues have been raised with me—issues such as their fear of going to an authority and their fear of seeking help. Also, where parents are extremely traumatised they might not recognise the needs of the children in the family context. So there are serious issues.

More recently, in some of the schools that I have travelled to people have raised with me an age-old issue. They go into the class, but they might not speak one word of English going into year 10 or year 11. This is particularly an issue for holders of 457 visas. Children are just placed in a school environment without any additional supports.

CHAIR —What was raised was the literacy and numeracy levels as well.

Ms Scott —Having said that, some of the schools that I have been to that have children from refugee backgrounds—such as Balga Senior High School, which used to be predominantly Aboriginal—are about an 85 per CALD community now. That is a significant difference.

CHAIR —A large African community.

Ms Scott —A large African community. They are so committed to education and want to learn. They see education as critical to them entering the Australian community. The teachers all report how the kids do not want to go to morning tea, have a break or go on their holidays. They get really disappointed because they love school and want to be part of the school community. That is on the positive side: they are ready to engage with school. But it is concerning that there are particular issues around their needs.

On mental health issues, at one country school that I was at recently which had some of these kids in it as well they were saying that they had a psychologist there for half a day a week trying to attend to everybody’s needs. One of the themes, no doubt, that you are picking up and I pick up as commissioner all the time is, while we might have some resources in mental health, in schools and in other agencies, how they all work together effectively to achieve the outcome that is desired—in this case, the mental health of children. We have a long way to go at the state and Commonwealth level in that respect.

CHAIR —I have a range of questions that I would like to ask. One in particular is around Mission Australia. Presumably you are aware of their survey?

Ms Scott —Yes.

CHAIR —Yesterday, they were pulling out some of the relevant statistics for us. One of us was where young people seek their advice from. I must admit that we were all quite surprised that the survey said that most young people seek advice first from their family. It varied with gender and as young people got older that happened less. That was very different to (a) evidence that we had had previously and (b) some that we have further had today. What is your response to that?

Ms Scott —I last year commissioned a major piece of work. For the first time in Western Australia, we have asked children and young people about these things—and the successful tenderers asked about 1,000 young people throughout the whole state, including kids who are pretty vulnerable, such as some Aboriginal kids in Fitzroy and Derby, kids in care and kids with disabilities. I hope to publish that research report in the middle of this year.

The preliminary findings are interesting. They sort of fit with what Mission Australia is saying. Kids say, and they say this to me in all the schools that I go to whenever they meet me, how important their parents and their family are to them. That is even with families where things are not going so well. It was interesting to note in Fitzroy some of the kids’ responses about this, that they often would turn to someone in their family. The second most significant group is their friends. That may change with age as well. I think those are two very important sources of information. Inspire and headspace are doing an outstanding job with very welcome initiatives. Earlier this year I went to meet with the young people involved with headspace. While we have surveys and so forth, I think it is really important that we keep talking to children and young people about any program that we are designing as to who they would go to to seek out information. I think that is an ongoing dialogue with children and young people about what would work for them and what does not work for them. It was interesting with headspace that sometimes the kids did not want to talk. When they are a little bit older they do not want to talk to their parents. They actually want someone else outside of that situation.

CHAIR —As they get older they shift from parents to peers and the internet. When you look at the breakdown at the data, you note that as they get older a high proportion move over to getting advice from the internet.

Ms Scott —That is why having good information on the internet is a good idea. Kids also say to me they still like the personal approach. They do want a person to talk to, which is interesting. We did an exercise with kids and young people about complaints systems. Do they ever complain about a government agency or another agency? How would they like to see complaints systems operate? How could they be more accessible and responsive? It was interesting that kids said, ‘When I want to complain I want to talk to someone. Even if it is at the end of the phone I do not want an automated answering machine’—and we don’t either! They want a human being there. So they might get certain information from the internet, for example, but they also want to have person-to-person contact.

CHAIR —I have an issue that I have been chasing by asking questions of several witnesses. You mentioned kids in state care. I am also particularly interested in kids in kinship care or out-of-home care and specific situations around kinship care but I presume they apply to other forms of care as well. It is where kids who have been in out-of-home care have gone into kinship care and where they have been exposed previously, for example—and this is the reason they were taken into care—to abuse. They have long-term needs. It seems to me, and I know this from some examples, that kids are not getting the follow-up care that they need. You are taking kids out of the home environment and if you know those kids you can virtually guarantee those kids are going to have some sort of need for counselling and long-term support. It does not seem to me—in fact, I know the system is not doing this, because I know from experience that the system is not—that the system is following up those kids. I have asked this question in New South Wales, where they have actually got a project underway at the moment where they are starting to look at how those kids are progressing, the long-term needs of those children and the support they are getting. In Western Australia is any work being done on that? In a couple of years down the track those kids will not be getting support, for example. We know they are going to need support. What can we put in place? Where is the thinking at on giving those kids and their families and carers some support?

Ms Scott —I think there are probably a number of answers. The first is that our legislation which governs kids in care—

CHAIR —In state care?

Ms Scott —Yes, state care—so when they are under the care of the CEO. But they could still be living with a family or they could be in a not-for-profit arrangement, a foster care arrangement, or in a state-run facility. So there are a whole range of options. But they still could be under the care of the CEO of the Department for Child Protection. If you look at the legislation which governs that, it will say that every child has to have a care plan and every child should have a leaving care plan. In Western Australia, we have quite progressive legislation which enables the CEO to provide support beyond 18. So your care and protection order might expire at 18 but up to the age of 25 the CEO of the Department for Child Protection can make available certain things, including counselling or financial assistance for counselling. So the legislation is there that enables that, through all the various planning mechanisms that should be in place. I think on the ground it is a totally different experience.

Prior to taking up this position as commissioner, I was the Public Advocate for Western Australia and my role was in relation to people with a decision-making disability—so people who might have had a mental illness or a cognitive disability, Alzheimer’s or an intellectual disability—and I could be appointed their legal guardian once they turned 18. In that role, I was being appointed for some young children who were extremely traumatised because they had been abused and taken into care and subsequently abused and who needed a whole range of long-term supports that were not provided. So I have had experience of that on the ground. I think we need to do a lot more. I am not aware of the New South Wales example but it sounds like a very fine initiative.

There is another thing which relates to that which has, I suppose, two aspects. One is that kids in care often have behavioural challenges, and the support that they need to manage those behaviours is considerable. I am concerned that we do not have sufficient investment for those kids. Also, there is one other related issue I want to raise: when I was in Fitzroy, for example, the workers said to me that it is not just the kids who need help but the workers. You were talking about families as well as foster families. But—and I think we have discussed FASD—that is what teachers say to me, desperately: ‘We want more help so that we know how to manage that child’s behaviour or meet their needs in the school environment.’ So I think there is a lot more that we need to do to equip the professionals to work with children who have these special needs as well.

CHAIR —Before I go on to my next area, there is another category of kids and those are the kids who are in kinship care, who have been adopted or are not necessarily under the care of the CEO. Are those kids still covered by that legislation?

Ms Scott —You would have to be under the care of the CEO.

CHAIR —Well, there is a group of kids who have gone into kinship care—they are not in the care of the CEO but they are still in kinship care—and have come out of very traumatic situations but are not getting that follow-up care. You can virtually guarantee that if they have suffered trauma they are going to need ongoing counselling and ongoing support. I know of a situation where there is tremendous need for ongoing support that was not provided because they are seen to have been adopted by someone and there is no ongoing support. I do not know the numbers but I suggest that, for Aboriginal communities, for example, there will be a significantly higher proportion of Aboriginal kids who would be in that situation, whether formally or informally. And, as I said, there is no support that I can see for those children. Is anything being done about that group of kids?

Ms Scott —Not that I am aware of, but I am not going to say that I am an expert in that area. So, no, not that I am aware of. But there may be some initiative that the Department for Child Protection has undertaken that I am not aware of.

CHAIR —Not that I have found so far. How involved were you in the development of the new suicide prevention strategy?

Ms Scott —I was not involved. Some of that work probably pre-dated my appointment. I am aware of the national and the state strategies, but that is really the degree of my involvement. I have not had any other involvement in that.

CHAIR —The tender has now been awarded to the Telethon institute, which seems to me to provide an ideal opportunity, particularly for the focus on children.

Ms Scott —It does.

CHAIR —Have you been engaged with them in the implementation of the strategy to date, or do you expect to be?

Ms Scott —I have not been to date. I am meeting with Fiona Stanley shortly, and we regularly keep up to date. Because my office is so small, I have to be clear about which areas I get involved in, particularly around implementation. I would certainly welcome a discussion with the Telethon institute, and I would then make a decision about whether or not I needed to be involved.

CHAIR —And, if it was travelling okay, you could just—

Ms Scott —Yes, exactly. Senator, you were commenting on children in care or in kinship arrangements and how they have tremendous mental health needs. That is absolutely true. I think the other thing that is missed around trauma and mental health issues is the link with the juvenile justice system and juvenile detention. Recently I met with the Create Foundation, a national organisation involved in supporting children in care. We talked particularly about what happens to kids who leave care. About 30 per cent of males who leave care end up in the juvenile justice system. When I was Public Advocate I saw some of those children—by the time they turned 18, they were well and truly linked with the criminal justice system because they had huge behavioural and mental health issues.

CHAIR —We ran out of time with some of our previous witnesses when we were talking about self-harm. I want to ask a few more questions about that in a minute. The other side of self-harm seems to me to be other behavioural issues around trauma and mental illness. It is not just physical self-harm; they can display other behaviours, and I suspect some of those are what cause them to end up having contact with the justice system.

Ms Scott —Yes, that could be right.

CHAIR —I am not sure if that is recognised in the same way as self-harm. We have heard of the stigma around self-harm and how people have been treated by emergency departments, for example—they are almost punished. We have had quite a lot of evidence around that. Although people are now picking up on the self-harm side of things, I wonder whether there is enough focus on the behavioural responses that children display which lead to them having contact with the justice system.

Ms Scott —I suspect not. I think you were taking evidence from the coroner.

CHAIR —Just in the room behind you.

Ms Scott —He has more expert evidence to give in relation to that. My comment as commissioner would be around the risk-taking behaviour that children, particularly vulnerable children such as children in care and children in Aboriginal communities, participate in. Drinking alcohol and driving or getting into vehicles and those sorts of things are risk-taking behaviour, which is very detrimental to them. But I do not think it is often recognised as self-harm in the context that you are talking about.

CHAIR —On self-harm, we have had quite a lot of evidence, both in the east and here today, about the response by some of the agencies delivering services—for example, EDs where an injury is obviously a case of self-harm and they have been made to wait for quite a long time and treated quite roughly. Queensland received evidence of people not being given anaesthetic when they were getting stitches in an attempt to punish them. Have you had any contact with that or instances of where that is happening in Western Australia with young people?

Ms Scott —No—and nothing has been reported to me. I am not saying it is not happening but it has not been reported to me.

Senator ADAMS —I would like to come back to the role of the chaplaincy program in schools and what communication you have in that respect.

Ms Scott —The schools I have visited have indicated to me the important role the chaplains are playing. However, at the last school I was at, they were talking about how there had been cutbacks in, I think, the federal funding program. In one community in the region they were saying that the chaplain obviously works more than he is paid for but that he was playing a critical role in the community. Obviously there are some good chaplains and there are perhaps some who do not work quite as well, but they have been highly valued in the schools I have been in in terms of being another resource that kids can go to to talk about issues. It seems that, generally, it is a very good program.

Senator MOORE —The funding cycle is under discussion but the scare campaign about the cut has actually led to more trauma. It is under review at the moment at the national level. I will follow up on that question. I am also interested in the role of psychologists in the schools. My understanding is that Western Australia has a good system but there is by no means a psychologist to every school. In your experience, is the role of psychologists in the schools been considered? Have you visited schools that have them?

Ms Scott —Yes, I have visited schools that have them. My comment is the one I made a little while ago: firstly, about their relationships with other mental health practitioners and some demarcation disputes about what they are prepared to handle versus a mental health practitioner. Some of the school psychologists have a more limited training, so that impacts on their capacity to service the needs in their school community.

Senator MOORE —It is applicable to chaplains as well.

Ms Scott —Yes. I think that we need more supports such as psychologists in schools. I think, though, that they need really good links with the external agencies.

Senator MOORE —Absolutely.

CHAIR —Having grown up a son through the West Australian public school system and having had some exposure to the issues around bullying, we had access, I must say, to excellent services through the school system. However, we had to wait months and months to get access to it but, once we were in, our son got really good support and, as parents, we got really good support. We had a fairly good understanding of how to access services, yet we did not know which door to go through. It was not until we made enough fuss at school that we were told where to go et cetera. Information was not provided to every parent. It was only when you knew to ask and then you had a hassle.

Senator MOORE —You had to kick up a fuss.

CHAIR —You had to kick up a fuss. I suggest that there a lot of parents in the system who do not know how to do that. They do not know that services are available and have to wait quite a long time to access the services. I would suggest that that can put quite a lot of people off.

Ms Scott —I agree with that. Parents say to me that they do not know where to go for a whole range of services for their children, whether it is mental health services, parenting information or developmental delay information. It is a minefield for them in the community. That is one of the reasons why I have promoted a one-stop shop where parents can come and get information and where all the agencies work together so you do not have to go off to education and you do not have to go off to health et cetera. They have some of those models in other states; we do not have that here in Western Australia. I think that is a good model.

The kids from headspace said to me that their parents sometimes did not take them seriously about what was going on with them and did not accept that they may have something a bit more serious than normal adolescence. A number of them made that point to me. That could be a stigma about having a child with a mental illness—perhaps the parents did not want one. A number of children involved with headspace raised that with me. They wanted to be taken seriously when they had concerns about their emotional wellbeing. They did not necessarily know where to go. That was one thing.

The other thing is the research I referred to before about children’s and young people’s views of their own wellbeing. One of the other things that are coming up is personal safety and bullying. I am surprised at that. We will have to analyse that information a bit more. Kids are very conscious of being excluded in a school environment in particular, and that can have enormous consequences.

CHAIR —From my personal experience, we knew something was going on with my son but getting him to tell us was quite difficult. He did not want to be marked out from the crowd as being bullied.

Ms Scott —Yes, it is very complex. I think that in Western Australia the education department has been doing a lot more work in this area and in the schools, and I think that that is a big improvement. We have some outstanding research. There is Donna Cross from Edith Cowan University and the Telethon institute. Bullying is also becoming a very big issue in Aboriginal communities. There is a research project in Geraldton where they are looking at that. There is texting and cyberbullying as well. We are lucky to have both of those researchers doing that work. I think that is one area where the public education system has responded quite well.

Kids have a pretty good definition of what bullying is now. It is not at the extreme end, which it was when I was growing up. It is if someone is doing something to exclude you and you do not feel comfortable about it. That was an interesting thing to come up in our research.

CHAIR —So they recognise it much earlier.

Ms Scott —Yes, and it is being talked about in schools as not acceptable. I think that that is good.

CHAIR —It also happens at a very young age. I was quite shocked at how early it starts at school. You think it is older kids, but it is not.

Senator ADAMS —To come back to the use of the internet and problems associated with that, something we were discussing earlier was Facebook. Especially with year 12 students, a cry for help goes out that someone is really distressed and has suicidal thoughts. In a normal situation before the internet, it would only be around people in the class or a few people, but now the fact is that it can go so wide. I asked about what programs were out there for someone who picked up this message and realised that this was serious. How could they deal with it, where could they go or what links could they use to help that person?

Ms Scott —My caveat is that I am not an expert in that area; however, Inspire were talking to me about the whole broad issue of the internet and educating young people about some of those issues and also their own safety on the internet. I think that, given their excellent outreach website and their involvement with young people, they would have more ideas than I about influencing and giving good information. Their website is fantastic. You will have seen it. It has sections for parents, for young people and for people who have been told something. It is a great resource, but for kids who do not access that there needs to be other ways of communicating in schools. What do you do when this sort of issue arises? What concerns me is the public nature of someone putting something on the internet. There is amongst young people themselves a lack of awareness of how it is out there forever.

Senator ADAMS —There is a stigma associated with it. Their names are there. That could lead to other nasty sorts of things happening.

Ms Scott —That is right.

Senator ADAMS —That was one of the reasons the chaplaincy program, with the internet associated with it, is so important to rural areas. Often the chaplains have reported back to me that this has been a problem. That was what I was following up; I was seeing if you had any indication of that through your office.

Ms Scott —Only what Inspire have told me. There is one issue at the regional level that relates to that. I was in a Wheatbelt town recently and kids were asking me: ‘If you’re a little bit different, where do you go? Everyone knows who you are.’ The same was for seeking help as well. In a very small community everyone knows your business, who you are related to et cetera, so I think there are some particular challenges in those communities.

CHAIR —They know who you are visiting and when.

Ms Scott —That is right.

Senator MOORE —That is the advantage of the internet. If you are different in a community like that, you can find people with whom you meet on the internet, but if it is handled badly it can lead to all kinds of awful things.

Ms Scott —Yes. The internet is not bad per se; it is how it is used.

CHAIR —I want to go to the issue of dealing with suicide in schools. We have had an ongoing debate about whether or not you name it in schools. Youth Focus were here this morning. I have heard them speak previously about being much more forthright in naming it in schools, yet we have had other advice that you are better off not naming it in schools but providing really good support and education services about life, connectedness and how kids can strengthen themselves and connect to services. How do you view whether it should be named in school or whether you are better off not naming it but providing support in schools that deals with strengthening people and providing them with support programs?

Ms Scott —I am going to fall back on my caveat: I am not an expert on suicide. I have been noticing the debate on that in the media in terms of whether you should talk about a young person’s suicide in the media. I noticed Patrick McGorry wrote a piece not that long ago saying that rather than not talking about it maybe we should. I think it is an evolving thing. Perhaps it is changing. I was interested in what he had to say, because he is far more expert than I.

CHAIR —We have heard from a number of witnesses issues of having a big fuss in schools where there has been a young person’s suicide and then there has been a memorial: that may be having a negative effect because their peers see that person being celebrated and a big fuss being made of them. I think it is fair to say that we have had fairly consistent advice about how that may not be a good thing—at least that element of talking about suicide.

Ms Scott —Yes, and I imagine that in particular Aboriginal communities on this issue of multiple suicides it would be interesting to hear what other service providers but also Aboriginal people think about that as well. I suppose my efforts have been really concentrated on what are the positive interventions that we can do to ensure that children and young people are healthy and well. I am very pleased to go back to Fitzroy in December and see how it has changed since May 2008, a community rebuilding itself more positive things for kids and young people and their families. The alcohol restrictions have made a significant impact but they need more help up there. But even so it is really good to see a community functioning well and coming together as a community through the Fitzroy Futures, where the organisations come together but there is community representation in their planning for their future. So it was tremendous to see that contrasted to May 2008, where they have experienced considerable family violence and a high number of suicides and having reported to me though this challenges that kids generally are doing a lot better in that community.

CHAIR —Thank you very much. It is much appreciated.

[2.21 pm]