Speech by Dan Neville TD, Dail Eireann on Disadvantage Schools, 12th January 2012
Deputy Dan Neville: I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this debate. I raise the issue of disadvantaged children or children in difficulties. We often fail to understand the opportunities there are to deal with children in such situations. I especially refer to children and young people who have emotional, psychiatric, psychological and personal difficulties. Teachers have a captive audience and are able to assess people at an early age. With proper intervention at that stage many problems that are seen in the classroom can be catered for and we can prevent difficulties arising in the future lives of the children.
There was a very low death rate among young people in previous generations, but that has changed during the years. That is true in the case of the incidence of suicide, an issue I wish to raise in this debate. In the past few decades the rate of suicide has increased dramatically among young people and, according to one expert, the incidence of it is approaching epidemic proportions, although I do not like to use that term and such terms should be advisedly used.
Suicide among young people is different in nature from suicide generally. The impulsiveness that is one of youth’s greatest attributes can often lead to a sudden rash attempt at suicide when in the case of an older person the same emotions and response may not manifest themselves. Suicidal behaviour in adolescents is more often related to acute interpersonal problems. I thank the Minister for his forbearance when I raised this issue in the case of guidance councillors and the pastoral role they played in schools and I asked him to ensure that role continues.
I understand changes are necessary as a result of the position in which we find ourselves but guidance counsellors are often the first point of contact for students suffering from emotional difficulties or mental health issues arising from suicidal thoughts, eating disorders, sexual abuse, drug or alcohol abuse, anger management, depression, bereavement, bullying or problems relating to their sexuality. They are also the first point of contact with the HSE and the Garda Síochána in times of tragedy and they have an important role to play in supporting teachers. As I address my remarks to the Minister, I know I am speaking to the converted in respect of this issue. He indicated that he will ensure school authorities are fully aware of his commitment to retaining the guidance counselling role in schools, even in the aftermath of the recent changes.
The pastoral role of the councelling service is improtant as this identifies students who may be in need, or at risk, and would benefit from intervention. The counsellor then assesses the needs of the student, supports, counsels and refers to outside agencies when necessary. This often prevents the situation coming to crisis point including holding and supporting students while they await appointments with other agencies, such as HSE Family Service, Adolescent Psychitatric Services and is key to promoting positive mental health throughout the school.