Tuesday, 23 November 2021
Ceisteanna - Questions (Resumed) - Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions
Defective Building Materials
60. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills her views in relation to the submission from the Donegal Education and Training Board, ETB, for additional supports to assist students affected by the mica issue; if her attention has been drawn to the unique challenges to the mental health and well-being of the student cohort in County Donegal; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [57562/21]
This question is on a specific submission that was made by Donegal ETB to the Department to try to address a unique set of circumstances around children living in mica-affected homes in Donegal and the needs identified by their schools. There is no doubt that these children are living under severe pressure. Their homes are at risk of collapsing, they are going into schools and the schools need to be able to deal with that and respond to the needs of those people.
I appreciate the Deputy raising this issue and the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy McConalogue, has raised it with me on an ongoing basis as well. I recognise the considerable challenge experienced by all of those impacted by mica. I have met families and representative groups to discuss the issue and I want to confirm that my colleague, the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Deputy Darragh O’Brien, is engaging extensively with homeowners, as the Deputy will be aware, to develop an appropriate redress package for all those affected.
I am conscious of the submission from Donegal ETB seeking supports to assist those affected. My Department has a comprehensive range of supports in place to support the well-being and mental health of all students. These supports should be prioritised and utilised by the ETB to help address any mental health and well-being needs of those students who are affected by this issue. These supports include casework by psychologists from my Department’s National Educational Psychological Service, NEPS. Psychologists also work with school staff to build their capability to support the well-being and academic, social and emotional development of all pupils. Resources and guidance on managing stress, anxiety and panic attacks and on self-regulation are also available. NEPS has developed a range of workshops to build the capability of school staff in the promotion of well-being and resilience in schools, which include upskilling school staff on the use and implementation of therapeutically informed approaches in schools.
The Department of Health has responsibility for the provision of counselling services, and through HSE primary care psychology and child and adolescent mental health services, CAMHS, provides clinical support to children and young people with mental health requirements. My Department will continue to signpost schools and students to the HSE-funded mental health services. Significant additional resources have been made available to schools this year under the Covid learning and support scheme, CLASS, which has provided additional teaching hours to schools to support academic teaching and learning as well as holistic development and well-being. Overall, 3,930 hours have been allocated to Donegal ETB for the 2021 and 2022 school year in the CLASS.
The Minister gave a comprehensive outline of the measures that are in place in schools to deal with the existing mental health problems and difficulties they have and that exist in every school all over the country. We are talking about a serious crisis that is happening in part of Donegal. The ETB's submission to the Department recognises that it is only in that specific part of the county that these resources are needed. Additional resources are needed as this is an additional crisis and the Minister has to recognise that. She said that the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy McConalogue, has been raising this with her as well but sadly it seems it has been falling on deaf ears within the Department. That is the reality of the situation. The Minister says that her Department "has a comprehensive range of supports in place to support the well-being and mental health of all students". That is the existing programme but this goes over and above that. The Minister has to recognise that and the Department should recognise that.
I want to make it clear that I do not for one minute underestimate the personal difficulties of any family, individual, young person or child experiencing mica defects in their homes. As I have outlined, there are specific and strong supports available within our school system. Equally, additional measures have been put in place this year. For example, for the first time almost 4,000 hours are going to Donegal ETB under the CLASS, which is for academic and holistic supports that students would require at this time, even apart from mica. However, I am happy to say that I will be cognisant of the points the Deputy and the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy McConalogue, have raised with me. I will be happy for my officials in the Department to meet Donegal ETB to see what scope or opportunity there might be to address some of the points it wishes to raise.
That is the most relevant thing the Minister has said tonight. It is vitally important that officials from the Department would meet Donegal ETB to discuss this issue with it. Donegal ETB even made a specific point in its briefing to Deputies outlining what it is doing and on what it made a submission to the Department of Education. That is how worried it is about the matter. Everything the Minister has outlined is welcome. She mentioned hours being allocated to Donegal ETB under the CLASS but that has been rolled out nationally and it is dealing with existing issues. These issues go over and above that. They are issues that cause schools and parents to be extremely worried about the impact this is having on young people across the board. I urge the Minister to ensure that this meeting would take place quickly and I urge the Minister to come back to the House and let us know what happens in that meeting. That is vitally important.
I do not in any way take from the seriousness of the situation. There has been a request for counselling services and that is a matter for the Department of Health. It has responsibility for the provision of counselling services, and through the HSE it provides primary care psychology and CAMHS services to children and young people with mental health needs. On the additional supports that might help, I am open to officials in my Department meeting Donegal ETB, recognising that there is a body of measures in place. I am open and willing to have my officials meet Donegal ETB to specifically hear from it about the measures it wishes to bring to the attention of the Department.