Stephen McNeice
Stephen McNeice

10.46 3 May 2021


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Emotional counselling supports should be mandatory in all primary and secondary schools in Ireland, an expert says.

It comes after the Oireachtas education committee recently said emotional counselling and supports should be extended to all schools, to ensure children "do not fall through the cracks".

The committee said it "should be an integral part of the education system as is the case in other countries".

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Dr Paul Downes, Associate Professor of Psychology of Education at Dublin City University, told Newstalk Breakfast these supports are needed in schools - but they're just not there at the moment.

Emotional counselling supports should be mandatory in all schools in Ireland, expert says

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He says supporting children at an early stage can avoid emotional problems 'mushrooming' into something even more serious.

He explained: “It is routine in many European countries - many less wealthy than ourselves - to have emotional counsellors and therapists in schools.

“I draw an analogy with universities, where you have emotional counsellors routinely.

"The assumption seems to be that emotions of children and young people in Ireland only start aged 18 - that is of course psychologically nonsensical.”

He said counselling services can support children experiencing bereavement, bullying, parental substance abuse or divorce.

He said the need for emotional counselling in schools has been exacerbated due to the pandemic, but the need was there before COVID-19 hit as well.

While current services such as career guidance in secondary schools have a role in mentoring, Dr Downes believes that needs to be separated from the complexity of counselling for trauma and other issues in children’s lives.

He said: “Generic, pre-packaged wellbeing programmes… they’re fine in themselves, but they’re not sustained, one-to-one emotional support.”

Dr Downes said he’s not necessarily arguing for counselling to be a legal requirement.

He said legislation could potentially underpin such supports in Ireland, but a policy commitment is needed first.

Main image: File photo. Picture by: Danny Lawson/PA Archive/PA Images

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