Dumfries and Galloway education bosses say mental health support in place for pupils

Diana J. Smith

Education chiefs have given assurances that pupils struggling mentally in Dumfries and Galloway are getting the counselling they need.

Hundreds of pupils have been receiving specialist support in school after Covid turned their lives upside down.

At the recent full council meeting, councillors asked whether the right level of care is being provided – and by experts who are fully qualified.

Annandale North Councillor Doug Fairbairn said: “What are we doing in relation to counselling in schools?

“This was brought up before, but we’ve had no real feedback since then.”

Jim Brown, the council’s chief education officer, said: “Staff members are now in place in all schools across Dumfries and Galloway.

“We’ve had a strong response that it’s most welcomed, and it’s had a huge positive impact on our young people.”

Provost Tracey Little said: “I’d just like to check, for my own reassurance, that these are trained counsellors trained in mental health for our young people, and not the promotional uplifted position within existing staff that it used to be when it was the pupil support position.”

Council service manager Mark Molloy replied: “All secondary schools within the region have got two and a half days per week access to a qualified counsellor who have undertaken their COSCA counselling qualification, which is the nationally-recognised qualification.

“There was a report that went to the education and learning committee on October 7 that provided the first year’s evaluation of that project, and I’ll be happy to circulate that to members that are not on that committee.

“It outlines the impact of that project in relation to our teaching colleagues’ understanding of it and very positive evaluation of it by young people and parents.”

The report produced last October showed that more than 800 primary and secondary pupils across Dumfries and Galloway were supported by school counselling services between August 2020 and June 2021.

The Covid restrictions and pressures of the pandemic had a “significant impact on the emotional and mental wellbeing” of youngsters in the region, according to the document.

Child psychology experts also revealed that there had been an increase in youths self-referring for help as they struggled to cope with anxiety and other mental difficulties.

The report showed that the school counselling project delivered 3,559 one-to-one sessions to pupils within secondary schools.

This meant that 351 secondary youths received support after being referred by school staff, external agencies such as CAMHS, social work, or even by reaching out for help themselves.

A total of 464 pupils were seen at 10 primary schools, which involved three youth workers delivering a cognitive behavioural therapy programme over a period of eight weeks.

The Scottish Government has allocated almost £2m to the council to fund the Counselling In Schools project until the summer of 2023.

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