Dail Debate on Career Guidance in Schools – 18th January 2012
Deputy Dan Neville
With the Chairman’s permission, I am glad to make a contribution to this debate. We have to recognise the situation we are in and respond to it and I wish to do so in this way. I believe guidance counselling is absolutely vital to the education and development of our children. There must be a continuation of the guidance counselling service.
The Minister has made it clear, in discussions I have had with him, that he is supportive of the guidance counselling service, the pastoral element of which I am particularly interested in, and wish to consider. Principals will have the discretion to decide on how much counselling or pastoral counselling will take place in their school. This should be responded to. The trained guidance counsellor provides a professional and confidential counselling service to students during their period at school.
I come from an area where I meet many families in difficulties, including young people. We have the fourth highest level of suicide in Europe. Suicide was mentioned in the debate. Suicide is such a complex and difficult subject and I do not believe it should become a political football under any circumstances. I wish to make that statement and put it on the record. I do not want to hear any arguments about it.
Every day guidance counsellors deal with a wide range of issues, including bereavement in families, abuse issues, gender issues that occur at puberty and eating disorders which can be a very difficult area in young people’s lives. Alcohol and substance abuse have increased dramatically in recent decades. Anxiety, anger management – which we spoke about to some extent last week – depression and suicide ideation are all factors. They have all become more profound with the advent of the recession. We have spoken at length about difficulties families can experience because of the recession, unemployment, financial difficulties or losing a house. This manifests itself in the school. Guidance counselling activity identifies students who are in need and at risk in such situations, and who would benefit from intervention. The guidance counsellor supplies a supportive relationship to the student before the difficulty becomes more pronounced. Students know how to request counselling and feel comfortable doing so. It is for that reason the guidance counsellor is often the first adult to whom a student is close.
We have often discussed this in regard to schools. I have seen this system working in the United States, where there is confidence on the part of students that if they are in difficulties they can speak confidentially and openly and this is known within the school. There may be a different relationship with other teachers but the counsellor assesses the need of the student, offers support, advises and refers to outside agencies, which is very important.
They can head off a crisis point in many difficulties. Teachers have spoken to me on how pressures at home, often with two parents working, can affect young people in school which counsellors are able to deal with.
For years we have told people of all ages about being open about their emotional well-being and the psychological difficulties they experience. Counselling services promote a positive mental health message in schools. It promotes a culture of assistance and being open about one’s difficulties. Schools have an important role to play in ensuring the stigma around mental illness is removed. The guidance counselling service is key in this and it should continue, regardless of these changes. Principals must understand this key role and accept it.