Written answers

Wednesday, 31 March 2021

Department of Education and Skills

Counselling Services

Neasa Hourigan (Dublin Central, Green Party)
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592. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills her plans to supply each school with access to an on-call counsellor or psychologist to ensure children and young persons have regular access to mental health services outside of the intervention services provided by the National Educational Psychological Service; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [16783/21]

Norma Foley (Kerry, Fianna Fail)
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While the provision of child and adolescent mental health services lies within the remit of the Department of Health, and the HSE specifically, the Department of Education has an important role to play in supporting the wellbeing and mental health of our young people. The Department’s Wellbeing Policy and Framework for practice has given recognition to the importance of promoting wellbeing in education. It outlines a comprehensive, whole-school approach to the promotion of wellbeing and positive mental health. It focuses on the whole school community, as well as groups and individual young people with identified needs.

The National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS) of my Department provides a comprehensive, school-based psychological service to all primary and post primary schools through the application of psychological theory and practice to support the wellbeing, academic, social and emotional development of all learners. NEPS provides its service to schools through casework and through support and development work for schools. Individual casework service involves a high level of psychologist collaboration with teachers and parents, often also working directly with the child/young person. NEPS may become involved with supporting individual students where the school’s Special Education Teaching team or Student Support Team feels that the involvement of the psychologist is needed. Psychologists may provide consultation in relation to appropriate therapeutic interventions to be delivered in the school setting and engage in direct work with an individual student as appropriate.

At post primary level, counselling is a key part of the role of the Guidance Counsellor, offered on an individual or group basis as part of a developmental learning process, at moments of personal crisis but also at key transition points. Each post primary school currently receives an allocation in respect of guidance provision, calculated by reference to the approved enrolment. Guidance allocations for all schools were increased in the 2020/21 school year in response to Covid 19. The Guidance Counsellor also identifies and supports the referral of students to external counselling agencies and professionals, as required. The Guidance Counsellor is key in developing and implementing innovative approaches to wellbeing promotion on a whole schools basis though the school’s Guidance Plan.

In addition to casework NEPS psychologists work with teachers to build their capacity/capability to promote the wellbeing and mental health of children and young people in schools. NEPS teams offer training and guidance for teachers in the provision of universal and targeted evidence-informed approaches and early intervention to promote children’s wellbeing, social, emotional and academic development. Initiatives such as the Incredible Years Social Emotional learning Programmes and the FRIENDS Resilience Programmes. These programmes have been welcomed by schools and their impact positively evaluated.

NEPS is currently developing a range of workshops for school staff on the promotion of wellbeing and resilience in schools which includes trauma informed approaches. The approaches outlined in the workshops are based on research findings, on the experience of experts in their fields and on the experience of practicing psychologists working in schools. The workshops will be available to build the capability of school staff in both primary and post-primary settings, including for school leaders, teachers and SNAs. Work is underway to identify schools for inclusion in a pilot of the workshops. In selecting schools, a mix of DEIS, non DEIS and urban and rural schools will be included. Following the pilot a national roll-out is planned during the next academic year.

In the event that the need for a more specialised intervention or counselling is identified by the NEPS psychologist, a referral is made to an outside agency for evaluation and ongoing support. The NEPS psychologist can in consultation with the Guidance Counsellor identify the most appropriate referral pathway and support schools with the onward referral to Child and Adolescent Mental Health Team (CAMHS), HSE Primary Care/Community Psychology teams, or an identified local community based specialist mental health service.

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