Foley confirms mental health supports will be trialled at Irish schools in seven counties

A landmark programme of counselling and mental health supports will be piloted at several Irish primary schools, the Minister of Education has confirmed. 

Minister Norma Foley today (May 31) announced the establishment of the programme – which will run from September 2023 – at primary schools in counties Cavan, Laois, Leitrim, Longford, Mayo, Monaghan, and Tipperary. 

According to the Department of Education, the counties were selected following an analysis of counsellor availability locally and liaison with regional NEPS teams. 

The new programme is designed to recognise the impact of COVID-19 on primary school-aged children and mitigate the mental health challenges experienced in schools. 

Speaking about the news, Minister Foley said, “Wellbeing is at the very heart of all that we do in the education system. Developing and promoting wellbeing is essential to allowing children to learn and grow to the very best of their abilities. This new pilot project aims to support, enhance and nurture wellbeing in our primary schools with two new support models. 

“I am pleased to announce the beginning of this pilot programme to provide significant counselling and mental health supports to children in primary school.”

A total of €5million from Budget 2023 has been secured for the implementation of the programme for the 2023/2024 school year. 

She said, “This will complement ongoing work and resources to support children’s mental health and wellbeing being provided in schools by the Professional Development Service for Teachers (PDST), the National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS) and, in post-primary schools, guidance counsellors; as well as the wider mental health supports available to children and young people through the health services.

“The delivery of this pilot programme will aim to ensure that children with mental health needs are provided with accessible and responsive services, to allow them to reach their educational potential and experience improved wellbeing.

“My Department will work closely with the Department of Health and the HSE throughout the pilot and both Departments will continue to explore ways to improve supports for young people, including around increased awareness, promoting help-seeking behaviour and sign-posting to the wide range of available services.” 

Minister of State for Special Education and Inclusion, Josepha Madigan TD, also commented and said, “There is no doubt that the impact of COVID-19 on our children’s mental health is still being felt.

“This pilot will provide for an allocation of one-to-one counselling sessions for primary schools, with children with special educational needs also benefitting from the programme in the seven counties.” 

One-to-one counselling sessions via access to a Department of Education-approved counsellor will be available, and schools will have access to up to eight counselling sessions for each individual child being supported under the first strand of the pilot. 

Parents and relevant school staff will be guided and encouraged to support the child at home and at school, with all schools receiving further information during the next week. 

A second strand to the pilot will be announced in the coming weeks.

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