Psychological Service

November 21st, 2007 - Pat Breen

^ Private Members’ Business. ^

^ Psychological Service: Motion (Resumed). ^

Deputy Pat Breen: The Irish Constitution pledges that all children should be cherished equally. It is obvious that our children are not treated equally. Children are left behind in a system which militates against those most vulnerable. Children in many of our schools suffer from behavioural difficulties such as depression, anxiety, conduct disorder, ADD, ADHD and multiple disorders. Early intervention in the educational system is vital to assist those children most at risk.

However, many children do not receive assistance because of the lack of psychologists. Many schools restrict the number of private tests they authorise and as a result various support and charitable organisations fill the gap. One of the support groups which provides much-needed assistance is the mid-west region’s ADD support group. It is the norm for the organisation to lend money to parents who cannot obtain help for their children.

A child can wait for up to two years for an early assessment. In some cases, children have left the education system without having received help. This results in greater difficulties for these children later in life. The mid-west ADD support group told me of a case involving a ten year old boy whose family could not afford to pay for private consultation. He would have had to wait until he was in second year or third year in secondary school for help if the support group had not intervened. The fact that a charitable organisation was forced to cover a shortfall in Department funding is an appalling indictment of the lack of care for our children and their parents.

In April 2006, only 60 of the 120 primary schools, or 50%, in County Clare had access to NEPS. The failure to provide 100% coverage for such essential services is scandalous. Three psychologists operate from a base in Ennis and occasionally they are assisted by a psychologist from Galway. They provide a first-class service to those children fortunate enough to access the system. However, expecting 20 full-time psychologists to cover 138 primary schools and 55 post-primary schools is not good enough and extra resources are required.

Since 1997, spending on mental health services has dropped from 11% to 7% of overall expenditure. The development of our psychiatric services has been ignored for far too long. During the past school year, 23 suicides by children were reported to NEPS. We must increase our investment in helping children most at risk.

The same is true with regard to speech therapy, which is provided by the HSE. However, it should be provided directly through the education system. It is regrettable that those at the coalface dealing with this problem, namely, teachers, are not involved in this service. Recently, the experience of the mother of an eight year old boy was related to me. She is anxious to obtain help for her son who has learning difficulties.

She is just one of the many parents and children throughout the country who are experiencing difficulties. Following an assessment of the child at his local school, he was advised to apply for speech and language therapy and his name was added, at No. 200, to the waiting list for initial assessment. It would be more than a year before he would be called, which is a disgrace. In today’s complex world, educational qualifications are critical and it is difficult for children to catch up later in life if they are left behind in their early days.

The shortfall in the numbers of suitably trained psychologists for the educational service must be addressed. Putting NEPS on a statutory basis and recognising it as an equal in the education system would be a start. The Taoiseach has described the promised referendum on the rights of children as a watershed for Irish children. The watershed should commence with a commitment to investing more resources in NEPS.