Wednesday, 8 May 2019

Questions (46)

James Browne


46. Deputy James Browne asked the Minister for Education and Skills his plans to provide psychological and counselling supports for children with mental health issues in schools; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18883/19]

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Written answers (Question to Education)

My Department’s National Educational Psychological Service provides educational psychological support to all primary and post-primary schools. This involves direct support in the event of a critical incident, access to national and regional support and development work to build school capacity to support students, access to a NEPS psychologist for responses to queries arising, and access to individual pupil casework via a NEPS psychologist or through the Scheme for the Commissioning of Psychological Assessments. (SCPA).

In common with many other psychological services and best international practice, NEPS has adopted a consultative model of service and it supports schools in a continuum of support process. The focus is on empowering teachers to intervene effectively with pupils whose needs range from mild to severe and transient to enduring. Psychologists use a problem solving and solution oriented consultative approach to maximise positive outcomes for these pupils. NEPS encourages schools to use a continuum based assessment and intervention process whereby each school takes responsibility for initial assessment, educational planning and remedial intervention for pupils with learning, emotional or behavioural difficulties. Teachers may consult their NEPS psychologist should they need to at this stage in the process. Only in the event of a failure to make reasonable progress, in spite of the school's best efforts in consultation with NEPS, will the psychologist become involved with an individual child for intensive intervention or assessment.

This system allows psychologists to give early attention to urgent cases and also to help many more children indirectly than could be seen individually. It also ensures that children are not referred unnecessarily for psychological intervention.

NEPS sanctioned psychologist numbers have grown from a base of 173 whole-time equivalents (w.t.e.) in 2016 through the intervening Budget increases in 2017 and 2018 to 194 w.t.e.

This Government remains firmly committed to the maintenance of a robust and effective educational psychological service. In this connection as part of Budget 2019 the provision of an additional 10 psychologist post to NEPS from next September was announced, bringing overall number to 204 w.t.e to further strengthen the excellent service provided to our school community.

A recruitment competition is currently in train by the Public Appointments Service (PAS) to replenish NEPS regional recruitment panels to provide for both current vacancies and upcoming staffing increases for 2019/20.

As the Deputy may be aware my Department launched its Well-being Policy Statement and Framework for Practice 2018-2023 in July 2018. This policy statement provides an overarching structure encompassing existing, ongoing and developing work in the area of well-being, which encompasses social and emotional learning across the curriculum.  It builds on the good work already happening in schools to ensure that best practice in whole-school well-being promotion is embedded across the system. It outlines a multicomponent, whole school preventative approach to the promotion of well-being with interventions at both universal and targeted levels. The interconnectedness of attitudes towards self, and others, positive social behaviour, emotional recognition, stress management, empathy and decision-making/problem-solving skills is recognised.   The power of empathy as a building block of tolerance and inclusion forms part of children and young people’s social and emotional literacy.  The Well-being Policy Statement and Frame work for Practice 2018-19 provides the overarching structure encompassing existing, ongoing and developing work across the school curriculum. 

NEPS provides consultation for school staff who may have concerns about individual students. NEPS supports schools in putting interventions in place for individuals with clearly identified and serious difficulties.  NEPS Guidelines for schools on Responding to Critical Incidents provide advice for schools in handling critical incidents and also advises about prevention and early intervention strategies for students at risk. 

The Department of Education and Skills does not make provision for therapeutic counselling in schools. When such counselling is considered to be required a referral is made to an outside agency.  Schools are advised to have identified appropriate referral pathways in consultation with HSE and other mental health services in their local community. NEPS helps schools in the process of making referrals to external agencies as appropriate for students who require more specialised interventions.