Tuesday, 17 September 2019

Questions (243)

Martin Heydon


243. Deputy Martin Heydon asked the Minister for Education and Skills the supports and counselling services available through schools to assist children suffering with anxiety; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37652/19]

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Written answers (Question to Education)

My Department is strongly supportive of the promotion of positive mental health awareness in schools. The Department adopts a holistic and integrated approach to supporting schools in promoting positive mental health and to supporting those with a broad range of problems including behavioural, emotional and social.

To support this holistic approach my Department has published a Well-being Policy and Framework for Practice (2018-2023) for all schools which will inform how schools can promote student well-being. To implement the Well-being Policy every school is required by 2023, to use the six-step School Self-Evaluation (SSE) process with the Well-being Framework for Practice, to consider their existing provision for well-being and to devise and implement a plan for improvement. The participating schools will engage in a Well-being Promotion Process, working through the six-steps of School Self Evaluation with sustained in-school support from the Department’s support services.

The Well-being Policy also includes an Implementation Plan with seven high level actions to support the realisation of the policy. My Department is working with a range of education partners and agencies to realise the ambition in the plan.

The Well-being Policy also builds on the work already taking place in schools including the new Framework for Junior Cycle (2015) which places a clear emphasis on overall student health and well-being.

Responsibility for provision of mental health services and counselling for young people lies with the Department of Health and the Health Service Executive. There are no plans for a national school-based counselling programme. The National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS) provides consultation for school staff who may have concerns about individual pupils or students. NEPS supports schools in putting interventions in place for individuals with clearly identified and serious difficulties. Consultation in relation to appropriate therapeutic interventions delivered in the school setting is also available. When 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.

Schools are advised to identify supports and services that are available in their community, build relationships and agree referral pathways for students needing referral. The (NEPS) in my Department provides psychological support and engages in collaborative work helping school staff including the school’s Guidance Counselling Service in how to access appropriate mental health services. Psychologists support schools in connecting with Primary Care Psychology Services and Child and Adolescent Mental Health services in relation to individual children and young people with mental health needs. Psychologists support and encourage the establishment of referral and communication protocols between education and health services at local level and work with others to develop community based mental health promotion strategies. In addition NEPS psychologists provide support to schools in implementing Student Support Teams in Post Primary Schools.

NEPS also provides guidelines and resource materials for schools to enable them to deal with certain traumatic events which can adversely affect students and school staff. The guidelines responding to Critical Incidents: Guidelines and Resource Materials for Schools (2016) refer to preventive approaches that schools can adopt in creating a safe and supportive environment. It also outlines how schools can plan for crises. The publication provides support to schools at a potentially overwhelming time with practical step-by-step guidance for teachers and principals on how to respond when a tragedy occurs. The guidelines focus on alerting schools to planning processes, structures and actions which will better allow them to cope with a traumatic incidents such as suicide or suspected suicide, murder, accidental death including road traffic accidents and drowning, and death through illness of members of the school community. In relation to suicide, advice is also given on prevention and positive mental health stratagems and approaches. NEPS psychologists will also, at the specific invitation of school authorities, attend at the schools immediately following such incidents to offer direct advice and assistance to school staff and students.