Immigrant Health Service

Mental health resources

  • Refugee children and their families are subject to high levels of adversity, both before and after arrival in Australia. Many have experienced past trauma and/or torture and families have ongoing risk factors for the development of mental health problems. It is important to remember mental health issues as well as health and development/education in the assessment of any child/young person from a refugee background. Other important points are:

    • Mental health issues usually do not come up in the first visit.
    • When taking a mental health history define confidentiality, and separately define interpreter confidentiality
    • Consider cultural aspects to the presentation and how families view the situation

    This resource outlines different mental health services for children/young people of a refugee or culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) background; the majority apply to all children/young people in Victoria. Contact details are available through the weblinks provided. Access to interpreters varies, this information is included, where available.

    Mental health services - refugee or CALD specific

    Foundation House (VFST)

    Foundation House  (The Victorian Foundation for Survivors of Torture, VFST) provides a range of services to people from refugee backgrounds. Services include counseling, advocacy, family support, group work, psycho-education, school support, information sessions and complementary therapies. Foundation House provides family based assessment and short term torture trauma counseling in the first 12 months after arrival for Humanitarian entrants as part of the Victorian Integrated Humanitarian Settlement Support Strategy (IHSS). There are 2 pathways to access this service; some people/families are identified as having complex needs on arrival and are referred at this point by their settlement worker; however the service is available to any Humanitarian entrant in the first 12 months after arrival. Longer term counseling is available; although there is a waiting list. VFST has offices in Brunswick, Dandenong and Sunshine, services are also provided in a number of rural and regional centres across Victoria. Interpreters available for all consultations. To make a referral phone intake: 03 9388 0022.

    Centre for Multicultural Youth (CMY)

    Centre for Multicultural Youth (CMY) undertakes a range of programs, projects and policy initiatives aimed at enhancing the life opportunities of young people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds. They provide counseling services through 2 programs (interpreters available):

    Mental health services - general 

    Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS)

    Specialist  child and adolescent mental health services are provided for children and adolescents up to the age of 18 years. Young people 16 - 18 years of age may receive a service from either CAMHS or youth/adult area mental health services depending on their needs or services available. Refugee-background children are not currently part of the priority access service response (PASR). Referral occurs through an intake process, and can be initiated by any concerned adult, although parent consent is needed for work to progress. The intake worker will contact the family, using an interpreter, to triage the referral.

    Services are provided for children and adolescents with serious emotional disturbance, e.g. presenting with: impaired reality testing, hallucinations, depression, suicidal behaviour, hyperactivity, nightmares, fearfulness, bed-wetting, language problems, refusal to attend school and stealing. Service types include:

    • Outpatient assessment and ongoing counseling services   
    • Intensive mobile youth outreach support services  mental health case management and support to adolescents who have complex needs. referral via CAMHS
    • Acute inpatient services short-term assessment and/or inpatient treatment for children/adolescents who cannot be assessed satisfactorily or treated safely and effectively within the community. Referral via CAMHS or clinician.
    • Specialised Programs vary by region; integrating mental health and schools e.g.CASEA program. Clinicians are available to liaise with schools in order to provide professional development and behvioural management guidelines. Referral via CAMHS.
    • Orygen sees 15 - 24 year olds in the West and North West areas and has multiple programs available including outreach services
    • Travancore school provides education support for children/young people (prep - year 12) engaged with the RCH Integrated Mental Health Service.

    RCH psychology department

    Referrals to the Department of Psychology are accepted for: Children with regular outpatients appointments presenting with complex developmental, cognitive, academic, language and behavioural or socio-emotional difficulties, where assessment requires specialized knowledge or skill. For example:

    • Children who present with unresolved diagnostic dilemmas after appropriate primary and secondary level assessment.
    • When an understanding of the child's cognitive and emotional state is critical for medical treatment planning, or in managing on going treatment demands.
    • Early intervention to prevent the development of psychological disorders in children attending RCH.

    Referrals to Neuropsychology are accepted when:

    • The child has an identified or suspected neurological disorder e.g. epilepsy
    • The child has acquired a brain injury as a result of head injury, cerebral infection, anoxia etc.
    • The child has an illness which might affect brain function, such as diabetes, leukemia, heart disease etc.
    • A treatment and rehabilitation program is required.

    Referrals can be made by letter or by completing a referral form (for both Psychology or Neuropsychology). Interpreters are available.

    The Child and Family Psychology Clinic is also linked to the RCH Department of Psychology - this is a statewide fee for service clinic. A 'Learning Differences Assessment' service is also available. Referrals are accepted under the new Medicare Better Access Programs.

    Other RCH mental health services 

    Private psychologists

    Better Access Scheme

    The Better Access Scheme - Up to 10 individual, or group, therapy services in a calendar year can be partially funded via Medicare. Out of pocket expenses vary between individual psychologists. Many clinicians charge $180 - $190, the Medicare rebate is $143/session. Interpreters are usually not available. Requirements for the Better Access Scheme include:

    • Referral to psychologist by a GP, with a Mental Health Care Plan, or a specialist psychiatrist (after billing items 104 to 109) consultant phsycian psychiatrist (after billing items 293 to 370) or specialist paediatrician (after billing items 104 to 109) or consultant physician paediatrician (after billing item numbers 110 to 131).
    • Psychologist, or clinical psychologist, much be registered with a Medicare Provider Number. To search for a registered provider click here (see box on right side).

    ATAPS Scheme

    The Access to Allied Psychological Services (ATAPS) scheme is an alternative pathway to the Better Access Scheme for mental health care. A directory of ATAPS service providers is available. ATAPS is a targeted program for 'hard to reach groups', including CALD communities and children with/at risk of developing a mental disorder. The ATAPS operational guidelines indicate Paediatricians and psychiatrists can refer children to ATAPS although this is not apparent on many of the relevant websites.

    Other relevant directories

    University psychology clinics

    Clinics where patients are seen by senior Psychology trainees, under the supervision of clinical psychologists.

    • University of Melbourne, North Melbourne Assessment and ongoing counselling (up to 6 months duration) for clients aged 15yrs or older, at cost of $25 per session. No access to interpreters
    • Latrobe University, Bundoora Assessment and ongoing couselling (up to 6 months duration) for clients of all ages, at cost of $10 per session. No access to interpreters
    • Monash University, Clayton. Assessment and ongoing counselling as needed for clients of all ages. Cost is by sliding scale according clients ability to pay. No access to interpreters
    • RMIT, Melbourne. Assessment and ongoing counselling as needed for clients of all ages. Cost $60 per session, lower cost by negotiation. No access to interpreters.
    • Victoria University, Footscray Psychology and cognitive testing available for clients of all ages, no cost at present. No access to interpreters.

    Frontyard youth services

    Frontyard Youth Services  is a multidisciplinary service addressing the physical, emotional and social needs of young people aged up to 25 years who spend time in the Melbourne CBD and who are homeless or at risk of homelessness

    Specific counseling services available are (appointments needed):


    Headspace is a youth friendly health service 12 - 25 years of age, operating a bulk-billing medicare service with clinicians including GPs, psychiatrists, psychologists, occupational therapists, drug and alcohol workers and cousellors. No referral needed; centres should be able to access TIS interpreting. Centres are located throughout Australia. There are seventeen centres in Victoria. Metropolitan centres are located at:

    Community health centres

    The following community health centres provide counselling for clients of a CALD background. Interpreters are available.

    Other resources


    Schools are a central point of contact for refugee children and young people with services in Victoria. All schools will have a designated person who is a point of contact for student welfare. In Government schools they are the welfare officer, in Catholic schools they are the pastoral care worker and in Independent schools they may be called either. VFST may be able to provide individual counseling in the school setting and can provide support and professional development for schools. Many schools have homework support clubs and these can be very useful for this population. Schools may provide counselling if needed, and are mandated to provide educational assessment.

    Victorian Transcultural Mental Health Unit

    The Victorian Transcultural Mental Health Unit  (VTMHU) is a statewide unit supporting mental health and psychiatric disability support services in working with culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) consumers and carers. It does not work directly with clients but has a role in service, policy and community development; research and education. A directory of bilingual mental health professionals is available, and the site also includes links to translated mental health information

    Mental health in Multicultural Australia (MHMA)

    Mental health in Multicultural Australia (MHMA) provides a wide variety of resources, including translated fact sheets and assessment tools

    Transcultural Mental Health Centre (NSW)

    The NSW transcultural mental health centre also provides a wide variety of resources, including specific resources for children and consumer medication brochures 

    Translated mental health information

    Immigrant health clinic resources
    Initial: Georgie Paxton and Colette Reveley
    Revisions: Georgie Paxton
    Updated August 2013