LOCAL teachers and youth workers are worried the move to shut down the School Focused Youth Service will severely affect the mental health of young people.
The service, designed to reduce the risk of suicide through prevention and early intervention programs, is set to be axed in June next year.
Assistant principal of Mooroolbark's Manchester Primary School and former secondary teacher Phillippa Adgemis is a strong advocate of the service and says the government was ill-advised to cut it.
"It's been really great to be with kids who genuinely require this sort of help," she said.
"Now we won't have the opportunity to do stuff where the kids are engaged within a school environment."
Ms Adgemis used the example of the 'Girlfriends!' program for year 9 girls as a key reason why the service should continue. The program looked to help at-risk students who were involved in self-harm, bullying or an eating disorder.
"It's hard to quantify, but I can safely say if it weren't for the program we run, one girl would've been dead, two would've been pregnant and the rest would've left school because [Girlfriends!] was the only reason they were there," she said.
Ms Adgemis said youth in the outer east were more susceptible to poverty and, in turn, mental health problems.
"The two things that lift you from poverty are education and relationships, which these programs bring," she said.
Yarra Ranges Council's manager for family, youth and children's services, Guy Masters, said the government needed to replace the service.
"Our main fear is there will be no replacement or that it will come several years down the track," he said. "[The cuts are] counterproductive and will increase the number of young people who are vulnerable to mental illness."
Last week, former Australian of the year Professor Patrick McGorry told the Weekly the move to shut down the SFYS revealed the government was "clearly walking away from young people".
A spokeswoman for Education Minister Martin Dixon said the department was working with other departments to develop "more effective responses to at-risk children".
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The following schools took part in SFYS programs in 2012:
Kilsyth Primary School
Lilydale High School
Manchester Primary School
Mater Christi College
Mount Lilydale Mercy College
Rolling Hills Primary School
St Joseph’s, Yarra Junction
Upper Ferntree Gully Primary School
Upper Yarra Secondary College
Upwey High School
Warburton Primary School
Woori Yallock Primary School
Yarra Junction Primary School
Croydon Primary School
Heathmont East Primary School
Norwood Secondary College
Sacred Heart Primary School