Thursday, 1 February 2018

Ceisteanna (139)

Bernard Durkan


139. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Education and Skills the extent to which he remains satisfied regarding the level of assessment and support for children and adolescents suffering from mental stress at various schools here and in County Kildare, specifically having regard to local evaluation of the need; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5217/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar 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 the work of schools in promoting positive mental health and to supporting those with the broad range of problems, behavioural, emotional and social.

The processes span the curriculum in schools, whole-school ethos, quality of teaching, learning and assessment, student support and pastoral care and the provision of professional development for teachers. It also involves other supports such as educational psychological services and guidance and counselling services, and the interface with other agencies, both nationally and locally. Schools also engage in a wide range of sport and cultural co-curricular activities which provide an important opportunity for students to experience success and personal growth.

Wellbeing Guidelines for Post-Primary (2013) and Primary Schools (2015) have been developed by my Department in collaboration with the Department of Health and the Health Service Executive. The guidelines are informed by consultation with key Education and Health partners and by the findings of research. They provide practical guidance to schools on how they can promote mental health and well-being in an integrated school-wide way and they also provide evidence-based advice on how to support young people who may be at risk.

The Guidelines build on the significant work already taking place in schools, including through the Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE) curriculum, the whole-school guidance plan, the National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS) continuum of support model and the HSE, Health Promoting Schools process. Information is also provided on how to access support from the SPHE Support Service and other external agencies and support services.  In addition Wellbeing Guidelines have been produced for the Junior Cycle Programme introduced in September 2017. This include a focus on mental health promotion. Professional development is currently being provided for schools in anticipation of this.

A range of external resources and initiatives are available to assist schools, among others, in supporting various aspects of a positive mental health process or relating to suicide prevention and crisis intervention such as the example instanced by the Deputy in his question.

The guidelines advise that in the event of pupils presenting with mental health difficulties which are above and beyond the school's capacity and ability to support, school authorities should identify and access the referral pathways for the various primary and secondary healthcare services in their particular area. My Department's National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS) is available to advise schools on the matter. Referrals should, of course, be undertaken with Parental or Guardian consent and collaboration, except in an exceptional situation where there may be child protection issues. In normal circumstances referral to the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS) is made through the student's GP. I hope this clarifies the issue for the Deputy.

My Department liaises extensively with the Department of Health and its agencies in relation to the rationalisation and co-ordination of mental health services at national, regional and local level. This liaison has resulted in the development of operational protocols for co-operation between services and clarification of referral pathways for accessing mental health services.  Awareness building for schools in mental health and well-being is supported by the health sector through overarching initiatives such as Healthy Ireland and Health Promoting School initiative. At a more focussed level my Department in collaboration with the HSE’s National Office for Suicide Prevention (NOSP) has recently commenced a pilot programme of training in SafeTALK (suicide awareness skills) on a voluntary basis for teachers.  The Learning from this pilot phase will help determine the appropriate training needs for teachers at primary and post primary level.  

Within my Department’s Action Plan for Education in 2016/19 mental health and well-being is afforded a justifiably high priority and is one of the key goals. The actions relating to well-being and mental health include:

- Delivery of support all schools to implement the national Wellbeing in Post Primary Schools Guidelines for Mental Health Promotion and Suicide Prevention (2013 and the Well-being in Primary Schools Guidelines for Mental Health Promotion (2015)). 

- Introduction of Wellbeing as a subject at Junior Cycle: Guidelines on Wellbeing in Junior Cycle have been developed by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) to support the Framework for Junior Cycle 2015. The guidelines will be introduced to post-primary schools in September this year.  The Junior Cycle team are currently planning the support that will be in place for the implementation of the well-being Curriculum.

- Increasing the capacity of NEPS: an enhanced educational psychological service to schools, through the appointment of an additional 11 educational psychologists.  The focus of this additional support will be on extending the roll-out of teacher programmes to DEIS schools that build capacity to promote social and emotional competence, resilience and school connectedness in all learners.

- Enhancing Guidance Provision at post-primary level: Recent budgets saw improvements in guidance allocation to schools, with Budgets 2016 and 2017 together seeing the allocation of the equivalent of 400 guidance posts, following budget measures in 2012 which removed the ex-quota provision for guidance posts (which amounted to some 600 posts).  The 400  guidance posts which have now been restored will be allocated separately and transparently once again.

As stated above the Guidelines themselves form a framework within which a broad range of existing processes and practices can be rationalised within schools and brought to bear within the context of a cogent well-being and mental health support for pupils in schools.  Support to the school community in this regard is being provided from a number of sources within my Department including the National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS), the Professional Development Service for Teachers (PDST) and the Junior Cycle for Teachers (JCT).

I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.