Wednesday, 20 January 2021

Questions (298)

Carol Nolan

Question:

298. Deputy Carol Nolan asked the Minister for Education if the National Educational Psychological Service, NEPS, is sufficiently resourced to provide educational psychological support to all primary and post-primary schools; her plans to recruit staff to NEPS to deal with the increase in psychological distress being caused to students as a result of Covid-19-related restrictions; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [2364/21]

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Written answers (Question to Education)

The National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS) is the psychological service of my Department. It is a school-based service with an overall objective of providing an educational psychology service to all schools, through the application of psychological theory and practice, to support the wellbeing, and academic, social and emotional development of all learners. NEPS prioritises support for learners at risk of educational disadvantage and those with special educational needs. NEPS 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).

NEPS is leading on supporting the wellbeing of schools communities at this time. This requires a structured, psychosocial response which is compassionate and largely preventative and proactive. A whole-school team approach to planning is recommended in order to ensure that staff, students and parents feel safe and secure. This response is aligned with the HSE guidance on such responses, and based on the five key principles of promoting a sense of safety, calm, connectedness, self- and community-efficacy and hope.

NEPS has created a range of resources and support including Wellbeing Webinars for primary/special/post-primary schools, Wellbeing Toolkits for Schools with a range of easily downloadable, user-friendly materials and advice and resources for parents, student and school staff to support their wellbeing at this time. Other resources include:

Students

- Advice for young people while schools are closed

- A Plan for the Day – A template to support daily routines

- Managing Stress and Anxiety – a guide for students

- Panic attacks – a guide for students

Teachers

- The response to stress information for school staff

- Normalising thoughts feelings and behaviour – a guide for school staff

- Guidelines for Teachers - Listen, Connect, Model & Teach (This guide has been developed to enable teachers to talk in a comforting and supportive way with students who may need the support of the Student Support Team at this time

- Managing Stress and Anxiety in students – A Guide for School Staff

Parents

- A Guide for Parents on supporting children and young people with daily routines while schools are closed

- How to Calm and Support your Child – A Guide for Parents and Guardians

- Managing Stress and Anxiety - A Guide for Parents and Guardians

These resources can be accessed on the gov.ie website.

NEPS psychologists continue to provide a service to schools via remote access. All psychologists have been asked to continue to maintain contact with their assigned schools during this current period of school closure and they will continue to provide those elements of case work that can be managed remotely to support the learning and wellbeing of children and young people during this time. With the support of schools, this may include consultation with teachers and/or teachers and parents, input into Student Support Plans/Reviews and feedback to teachers and/or parents. NEPS will also continue to provide support to schools in the event of a critical incident.

In the event that the need for a more targeted counselling or a specialised intervention is identified by the NEPS psychologist, a referral is made to an outside agency for evaluation and ongoing support. The NEPS psychologist will 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.

At post primary level, each school currently receives an allocation in respect of guidance provision, which is calculated by reference to the approved enrolment. 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. 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.

Overall responsibility for the provision of child and adolescent mental health services lies within the remit of the Department of Health. The Department of Health and HSE have ensured the most appropriate services and resources are clearly signposted for young people. The stepped care approach recognises that at present, there already exists services that offer online text and telephone supports to people seeking mental health information and advice. These include the Samaritans, Pieta House, MyMind, Turn2Me, Aware, Crisis Text Ireland, Shine, BeLongTo, LGBT Ireland, Jigsaw, Bodywhys and Childline. The YourMentalHealth.ie website provides a ‘one-stop-shop’ portal for people seeking information, supports and services, including information on accessing urgent help and a mental health text messaging support service which is available 24 hours a day, 7 days each week to connect people with trained volunteers.

I can inform the Deputy that starting from a level of 173 whole-time equivalents in 2016 and following increases allowed in Budgets 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2020 the sanctioned number for NEPS psychologist currently stands at 221 w.t.e. This includes an additional 17 psychologist posts to support the wellbeing of school communities.

Some 205 of these posts are currently filled which represents the highest number of psychologists to be employed within NEPS since the inception of the service in 2000. The filling of the remaining posts is being actively pursued by my Department in conjunction with the Public Appointments Service and a number of new appointments are imminent.

This Government remains firmly committed to the maintenance of a robust and effective educational psychological service.

Question No. 299 answered with Question No. 279.