State ‘cannot meet demand’ for youth mental health services, says Department of Education – The Irish Times

State services cannot meet the growing demand for wellbeing and mental health supports among children and young people, the Department of Education has said.

The comment is recorded in a confidential Budget document prepared by the department and released to The Irish Times under the Freedom of Information Act.

The document notes that there has been a “documented deterioration” in the mental health of young people since the pandemic, with significant increases in referrals to child and adolescent mental health services and psychological services in education.

“It is recognised that the current State services (health and education) cannon meet the demand for wellbeing and mental health supports,” it states.

The comments were made in the context of a proposal to spend €5 million next year on a pilot project which will provide counselling services in primary schools for the first time.

The landmark trial of supports is to be piloted across primary schools in counties Cavan, Laois, Leitrim, Longford, Mayo, Monaghan, and Tipperary.

Each school in the pilot will be given access to counselling supports, as determined by the Department of Education.

The National Educational Psychological Service (Neps), on behalf of the Department, has established county panels of preapproved private counsellors to provide in-person one-to-one counselling to support an estimated 4,000-4,500 children.

Each child who is referred for counselling may receive up to six counselling sessions per child. Two of these sessions will be with parents of the child as “key agents of change” in a child’s life.

It will be up to schools will prioritise children who need the most support. Counselling will be provided in the school, during school hours, and is aimed at help children deal with a range of challenges such as, for example, someone in the family getting sick or someone dying or parents breaking up.

Schools will be asked to help identify at pupils who may feel a bit overwhelmed by their feelings and find it hard to focus and learn in school.

They will work in collaboration with parents – who must agree to counselling for their child.

Latest figures show HSE’s child and adolescent mental health services reported a 40 per cent increase in the number of children waiting to be seen by their services last year, while ESRI research indicates a significant rise in rates of mental health problems and depression among young people.

Prof Paul Downes, director of DCU’s Educational Disadvantage Centre, who played a key role in campaigning for in-school counselling, has also said schools have been reporting huge levels of demand for one-to-one counselling supports.

While some commentators say the impact of Covid has been a key factor being the increases, others point to potential factors before the pandemic such as early access to social media and smartphones or the increased “bubble wrapping” of children’s lives.

A second strand of the pilot project include early intervention for individual children or groups with mild or emerging needs.

It will also seek to build the capacity of schools to strengthen whole school preventive approaches, including the provision of psycho-education support for parents and teachers.

This second strand of support will be rolled out in clusters of primary schools in Cork, north Dublin and Carlow

The provision of in-school support to these school clusters will see the introduction of a new type of support practitioner into the system – the “education wellbeing/mental health practitioner” – who will work under the supervision of Neps psychologists.

These practitioners will be graduates, ideally from graduate courses in psychology, education or social science, say Department of Education sources.

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