INTO welcomes rollout of schools’ counselling pilot

The Irish National Teachers’ Organisation (INTO) has welcomed today’s announcement by Minister for Education Norma Foley regarding the pilot in-school counselling service to be rolled out in counties Cavan, Laois, Leitrim, Longford, Mayo, Tipperary and Monaghan; and looks forward to hearing details of the second strand in the coming weeks.

The new service is in response to the campaign led by the INTO and is a significant step in addressing the growing need for mental health support among primary school pupils.

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a profound impact on the mental wellbeing of children, leading to an increased number of pupils seeking behavioural and emotional interventions.

Referrals to the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service and other relevant services have risen by a staggering 40%.

Some 237,000 children are living in poverty in Ireland with 68,000 children on waiting lists for essential services. 3,500 are homeless and 1,800 avail of International Protection Accommodation Services.

As teachers, INTO members have witnessed first-hand the adverse effects of mental ill-health and poor emotional wellbeing on pupils. The lengthy waiting lists for specialist services have only compounded these challenges, leaving many children without the support they desperately need.

The INTO has been advocating for age-appropriate supports to be funded for all children experiencing mental health and emotional issues, strongly arguing that in addition to what the Minister has announced, an increase in resources for the National Educational Psychological Service and the reinstatement and expansion of the in-school and Early Years Therapy Support Demonstration Project are crucial steps in providing the necessary assistance to pupils.

Ultimately, the INTO believes every school in Ireland will need on-site support to promote wellbeing and to meet the mental health challenges of pupils.Government must set funding aside in Budget 2024 to facilitate the nationwide rollout of these supports in all primary schools from September 2024.

INTO General Secretary John Boyle said:

The introduction of on-site counselling, aligned with international best practices and guided by a national framework, is an essential component of a comprehensive mental health support system.

“Having qualified counsellors available within schools will ensure timely and accessible assistance for children in need. By implementing this pilot program, we can provide vital mental health services directly to students, enabling them to receive the support they require in a familiar and nurturing environment.

“We commend the Minister for Education for acknowledging the urgency of this matter and taking concrete steps toward improving the mental wellbeing of our young learners. We look forward to working closely with the Government to develop and refine these services, ensuring that every child in Ireland has access to the necessary mental health support they deserve.

“Together, we can create a brighter and healthier future for our students.”