Thursday, 20 June 2013
I thank the Minister of State for coming to the House to discuss the possibility of implementing a policy that would undoubtedly assist the safety and well-being of Irish teenagers. I raised this issue in the Seanad a number of months ago. As we know, the issues of bullying and suicide are persisting right across the country and, unfortunately, are remaining prevalent among teenagers. I feel that every channel of communication must be examined to raise awareness of these problems, which are reaching unacceptable levels in our society. Information on helplines needs to be easily accessible to those who need such services most. It is vital for this critical information, which could save the life of a teenager or anybody else, to be readily available to such people. Therefore, I ask the Minister of State to indicate whether he agrees that information on suicide prevention and anti-bullying helplines should be printed on the back covers of all secondary school books. This information should contain the telephone numbers and website details of all relevant bodies and organisations that provide anti-bullying and suicide prevention measures. I would like the Minister of State to indicate whether he is amenable to the implementation of an initiative that would ensure helpline information is printed on all secondary school books and manuals used for present and future curriculums for secondary school students.
I thank Senator Higgins for raising this matter in the House. I am responding on behalf of my colleague, the Minister for Education and Skills. I am conscious that youth suicide is a serious issue. I accept that schools can play a role in suicide prevention. There is a need to ensure the education system is more responsive to those with emotional or mental health difficulties. The Senator may be familiar with the guidelines entitled Well-Being in Post-Primary Schools: Guidelines for Mental Health Promotion and Suicide Prevention that were launched by the Minister, Deputy Quinn, last January. The guidelines, which were developed by the Department of Education and Skills in conjunction with the Department of Health, are informed by consultation with key education partners and the findings of recent research. They provide practical guidance to post-primary schools on how they can promote mental health and well-being in an integrated way. They also provide evidence-based advice on how to support young people who may be at risk of suicidal behaviour.
The guidelines have been developed to bring coherence to and build on the multitude of practices that are already in place in schools to promote well-being. They emphasise the need to integrate all elements by taking a co-ordinated, whole-school approach to the promotion of positive mental health. This involves building and integrating school self-evaluation processes, implementing the social, personal and health education curriculum, developing whole-school guidance plans, adopting the National Educational Psychological Service continuum of support and building effective inter-agency relationships. Support for schools will be integrated into existing continuing professional development work plans for the social, personal and health education support service. It will be co-ordinated nationally in collaboration with the National Educational Psychological Service and the HSE to ensure there is a streamlined approach.
Copies of the guidelines have been circulated to school authorities. In addition, the Minister for Education and Skills, together with the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Fitzgerald, launched an action plan on bullying in January of this year. Work has commenced in consultation with the education partners and is progressing well on the 12 actions outlined in the plan. Implementation will continue in the coming months.
I can inform the Senator that the Department of Education and Skills, with the active participation of the Irish Educational Publishers' Association, IEPA, has developed a number of notices for students focusing on well-being, suicide prevention and anti-bullying supports available to them and highlighting information sources or contacts for general and crisis support. The IEPA has agreed with its members to include these notices as appropriate in the broad range of student publications produced by its members annually. The full effect of this co-operative venture will be seen in 2014 and 2015, with the notices being placed in up to 1,000 mainstream publications used by primary and post-primary students. I would like to place on record the thanks of the Minister for Education and Skills to the IEPA for its support in this venture.
I thank the Minister of State for his response. I am delighted to learn of this latest initiative to deal with an issue I raised some months ago as a result of lobbying from people in my area. It was great to be able to bring it to the floor of the House and now to see that something so positive is being enacted as a consequence.
Teenagers are our future. I was one, as indeed was the Minister of State, which means we know exactly how important they are in shaping our future. To be fair to the Ministers for Education and Skills and Children and Youth Affairs, the Department has followed several great initiatives. This is one of its best. I am delighted to learn that this matter has been followed right through. I also commend the IEPA on what it is doing in this regard because one life lost is one too many, so well done to all involved.
I thank the Senator for her supportive remarks, which will be brought to the Minister's attention. It is good to see that there is co-operation among several Departments in dealing with this very serious problem. There is a recognition that there is a serious problem and there is a co-ordinated approach among several Departments to get to grips with the serious situation that has brought tragedy to so many lives and families. I thank the Senator for giving us the opportunity to debate this problem here this afternoon.