Calls have been made to scale up a pilot project that will give pupils access to specialist counselors at a post-primary level.
The government has announced that it will invest 5 million euros in piloting a psychological support program for primary school children.
However, a secondary teachers’ union said there was no ‘logic’ in not extending it to post-primary pupils.
Moira Leydon, Deputy General Secretary of the Association of Secondary Teachers, Ireland (ASTI) has called on Education Minister Norma Foley to roll out the scheme to all pupils.
Ms Leydon told the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Education and Further and Higher Education that adolescence is the “prime time” for difficulties to arise.
“I don’t see any logic in the Ministry of Education not extending it to post-primary. It’s an almost default mechanism for making a driver. The problem is our experience of pilots in this country, they can last 20 years,” she added.
“I made reference to the prevalence of mental health difficulties and adolescence is when these difficulties manifest.
“If we’re not in a space where teens can’t get early intervention and support, that’s a particular failure to help because that’s when they need it.
“Certainly we will officially go to the Minister of Education and talk about the model, what are our plans for a second level.
“We come here all the time, we talk about wanting more resources, but really, that’s the crux of the matter. Schools are underinvested.
“Teachers are not mental health workers, and we don’t put other professionals in school settings to meet the holistic needs of young people.”
Máirín Ni Chéileachair, deputy general secretary of the Irish National Teachers’ Organization (INTO), said community counseling services should be provided in schools.
“My own experience, as a teacher and as a principal, is that if we had something co-located in schools, kids who are at huge risk are more likely to engage,” Ms Ni Cheileachair said. to the committee.
“Children come to school every day, their parents bring them to school.
“To have a place where they can come and do both, the child doesn’t need to be moved out of the building.
“We would like to revisit the concept of community. For many students, the community is their school, and schools in many rural areas are its center.
“I think our definition of community is too narrow in this context. I think schools should be at the heart of this community definition.
“There are a lot of programs going on in schools that are extremely beneficial. We are at a very exciting stage of developing a new curriculum at primary level and there will be opportunities there under the wellbeing specification.
“I think a lot of good work can be done, but you can’t replace a therapeutic service for a child who needs a therapeutic service.
“Their teacher is not a psychiatrist. They are not psychologists. They are not advisers. They are not therapists, and although they can create an atmosphere of psychological safety in their classroom, they cannot recreate a therapeutic session and they need support to do so.
Sarah Hughes, mental health programmer for the Union of Students in Ireland, also told the committee that mental health staff were struggling with the current demand for students presenting in distress.
“Recently on a visit to campus I saw the strain on services as there were only standing room left in the waiting room for an emergency counseling walk-in clinic” , she added.
Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, Labour’s education spokesperson, said the Irish education system is almost “uniquely designed” to contain mental health issues.
“I look at the way we separate children based on religion, we separate children based on income, we separate children more often than any other European country seems to,” he said. he told the committee.
“I know from my own experience with children who walk to the school gate with hunger issues, who may not have slept the night before, and who witness things they probably shouldn’t witness in as children.
“Then facing a scenario of an oversized classroom with a teacher trying to balance all the needs of those kids.”