A pilot government scheme that will see specialist counsellors working in primary schools across the country is insufficient and must be expanded to secondary education, an Oireachtas committee heard. Professor of Psychology of Education Paul Downes told an Oireachtas roundtable discussion that the government is not doing enough to provide mental health services to teenagers.
A fund of five million euro was announced earlier this year as part budget 2023 to pilot specialist counsellors working primary schools next year. Professor Downes told an Oireachtas roundtable discussion on Mental Health Supports in Schools and Tertiary Education that the initiative represented an ‘Irish solution to an Irish problem’ — as secondary school pupils will not have access to specialist counsellors.
“It solves nothing for Irish teenagers in society today,” he said, noting that ‘early intervention’ means tackling problems at the earliest stage possible; including when they manifest secondary school.
There is a ‘glaring gap’ and ‘system absurdity’ in what government has planned, Professor Downes said.
Professor Downes said, “we now have a situation in Ireland where you have primary schools with specialist emotional counsellors on site; you have it in third level routinely for many years; and yet the most vulnerable group, teenagers, are missing out on this specialist service. This is too urgent to wait for the results of the pilot.”
Professor Downes also said the pilot should not see specialist counsellors ‘rotated’ into schools; it should see specialist counsellors who are embedded in two schools at most. Guidance counsellors, he added, are not ‘in the area of dealing with trauma’ and are therefore not suitable to provide counselling for young people who have suffered trauma.