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Mental Health

Pilot scheme offering free counselling for primary school children to be rolled out in September

The first strand of the scheme will be rolled out in seven counties, with more to be announced in the coming weeks.

A PILOT SCHEME offering free access to counselling and mental health supports for primary school children is set to be piloted in seven counties.

From September, primary schools in Cavan, Laois, Leitrim, Longford, Mayo, Monaghan, and Tipperary will be able to avail of the new scheme.

Five million euro has been secured from Budget 2023 for the pilot programme.

The programme is designed to recognise the impact the COVID-19 pandemic had on young children.

The seven counties were chosen following an analysis of counsellor availability locally.

Pupils will have access to eight one-to-one counselling sessions, while parents and school staff will be “guided and encouraged to support the child at home and at school”.

Schools and parents in the pilot programme will receive further information in the coming days and a second strand of the programme will be announced in the coming weeks.

Education Minister Norma Foley said “wellbeing is at the very heart of all that we do in the education system” and added that the project will “support, enhance and nurture wellbeing in our primary schools”.

Minister Foley also said: “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.”

The Irish National Teachers’ Organisation (INTO) has welcomed the announcement and said it looks forward to hearing more details of the second strand in the coming weeks.

The INTO noted that referrals to the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS) and other relevant services have risen by 40%.

While welcoming the announcement, the INTO said “every school in Ireland will need on-site support to promote wellbeing and to meet the mental health challenges of pupils”.

It also called on the government to set aside funding in Budget 2024 to facilitate the nationwide rollout of these supports in all primary schools from September 2024.

INTO General Secretary John Boyle said: “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.”

He commended Minister Foley for “acknowledging the urgency of this matter and taking concrete steps toward improving the mental wellbeing of our young learners”.

The INTO general secretary added: “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.”

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