Victorian children were in crisis as much of the state returned to lockdown and remote education, with Australia’s only free 24/7 counselling service for young people reporting demand in the state increased 8% in July compared with the previous month.
A spokeswoman for Kids Helpline said the Victorian figure contrasted with a national increase of 2% over the same period. The phone and online counselling service targets young people aged five to 25.
The top five concerns raised by Victorian children and young people in July were mental health, emotional wellbeing, family relationship issues, suicide-related issues and friend/peer relationships.
On 7 July, Victoria reimposed stage three restrictions across metropolitan Melbourne and the Mitchell shire in a bid to slow the virus, but some hotspot suburbs and public housing towers were under restrictions prior to then. On Sunday, stage four restrictions were introduced across metropolitan Melbourne.
“There was an increase in demand for Kids Helpline from Victoria of 28% between March and July 2020 compared to the same time in 2019, and it is reasonable to assume that kids in strife are turning to Kids Helpline in increased numbers due to the loss of their other support structures,” a spokeswoman for the service said.
“We have also seen an increase of 33% in duty of care notifications on behalf of children and young people in Victoria in that same period, which also supports the proposition that more children are turning to us for support.”
A duty of care notification is when someone at the helpline thinks a young person is in a dangerous or unsafe situation and reports this to another organisation such as emergency services or child protection. The spokeswoman said it was important for young people to know the service would not close for Victorian youth.
“We will still be there for children and young people in crisis and needing support anytime and anywhere,” she said.
Michael Perusco is the chief executive of Berry Street, an independent charity based in Victoria that helps children, young people and families recover from violence, abuse and neglect.
Perusco said the organisation was concerned about families not getting the level of support they normally would because of Covid-19. He was worried there were barriers for families in crisis accessing services. He said schools – which were now closed to most students who were again learning remotely – were not just about providing an education but “seeing” children.
“One of the main connection points to recognise children and families experiencing vulnerabilities is childcare and school,” he said. “As a result of children not going to childcare and school due to Covid-19 restrictions and lockdown, there are fewer eyes on these families. This makes it challenging to identify those children and their families who may be at risk.”
Family violence was a largely invisible crisis before Covid-19, Perusco said. “Covid-19 is making it even more invisible. International experience shows that, during periods of lockdown, family violence increases.”
He said children and their carers were less likely to call support services when others were in the home.
“Families are under pressure, people are losing jobs, people are stuck in their house 24/7, and it’s all having a real impact on people’s mental health,” Perusco said.
“Unfortunately, we know that in times of uncertainty, victims will put up with more than they normally would because they feel they have fewer choices, less money, and feel more tied down.
“We are hearing reports of new and different types of coercive control being used in some of these family violence situations. It’s vital that we continue to talk about family violence so that victims know they still have choices, that services are still available, and to encourage them to seek help as best they can.”
Perusco stressed even during stage four lockdown with a nightly curfew “no one will be fined if they leave their house to escape family violence”.
• Crisis support services can be reached 24 hours a day: Lifeline 13 11 14; Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467; Kids Helpline 1800 551 800; MensLine Australia 1300 789 978; Beyond Blue 1300 224 636