Pupil mental health support must continue past 2024

In a move to address the pressing mental health challenges faced by primary school pupils in the aftermath of the pandemic, the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation (INTO) has expressed its strong support for the inclusion of 78 primary schools in a pilot scheme aimed at mitigating increasing mental health challenges.

The INTO’s campaign leading up to last year’s budget has been instrumental in securing the pilot scheme, which marks a significant step towards providing much-needed mental health support for primary school children. The selected schools, located in Cork, Dublin 7, Dublin 16 and Carlow, will begin participating in Strand 2 of the pilot project in September 2023.

List of schools

Under Strand 2, a new type of support will be established for clusters of primary schools in each area, facilitated by Education Wellbeing/Mental Health Teams. The initiative will also introduce Education Wellbeing/Mental Health Practitioners who will work under the guidance and supervision of the National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS).

The primary focus of this support is on strengthening whole-school preventative approaches, including providing psycho-educational support for parents and teachers, as well as early interventions for groups or individual children with mild or emerging mental health needs, using low-level therapeutically informed approaches.

Letter to schools

Recognising the potential of the 2023-24 initiative, the INTO is now campaigning for an additional €11 million in Budget 2024 to ensure that every primary school in the country receives ongoing mental health support starting from September 2024.

INTO General Secretary John Boyle responded to the recent announcement, emphasising the immense challenges faced by school communities due to the increasing number of children struggling with their mental health and well-being, necessitating urgent behavioural and emotional interventions. Referrals to the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service and other relevant services have surged by a staggering 40%, highlighting the magnitude of the issue.

Boyle further noted that Ireland currently has 237,000 children living in poverty, with 68,000 children waiting for essential services. Additionally, 3,500 children are homeless, while 1,800 rely on International Protection Accommodation Services.

The impact of mental ill-health and poor emotional well-being on pupils has been witnessed first-hand by INTO members. The lengthy waiting lists for specialist services have only exacerbated these challenges, leaving many children without the critical support they desperately need.

In conjunction with the pilot scheme announced by Minister Foley, the INTO stresses the need for increased resources for NEPS and the reinstatement and expansion of the in-school and Early Years Therapy Support Demonstration Project. These measures are deemed crucial in providing the necessary assistance to pupils.

The INTO asserts that the pilot scheme for 2023-24 must not be a one-time effort, but rather a springboard for future endeavours, where schools and therapeutic support services work in tandem. It is evident that students in every primary school will require ongoing in-school support from mental health professionals, making the continuation of such programmes imperative for the well-being and success of the next generation.