Anxious teens bearing the brunt of cuts, say guidance counsellors
Tens of thousands of anxious youngsters enduring exam stress, bullying or simply unsure what college course to take will not have anyone to turn to at school because of cutbacks announced in the Budget.
One of the cost-cutting provisions in the Budget means that guidance counsellors in second-level schools will be forced to scale back their work, thanks to Minister for Education Ruairi Quinn.
From next September a 500-pupil school will be allocated 26 teachers, plus a principal and deputy principal. There will be no allocation for a guidance counsellor.
The move means that guidance counsellors who are currently available to pupils on a full-time basis will have to squeeze in vital counselling duties on an ad hoc basis in-between teaching classes.
Former president of the Institute of Guidance Counsellors Brian Mooney claims that while the Government says these measures will result in annual savings of €32m, it comes at a price of significantly diminishing support for students.
According to Ursula Finnegan, deputy principal and guidance counsellor at Gallen Community School in Ferbane, Co Offaly, years of progress in the education system has been "thrown away" in this Budget.
She pointed to a recent ERSI report, which highlighted the need for increased one-to-one counselling in schools in relation to education and career decision-making.
"The proposed cut to the allocation of career guidance counsellors in our schools will severely affect the personal, educational and career support services to second-level students and their parents with whom we frequently liaise."
Ms Finnegan reiterated that school guidance counselling services were of critical importance for young people who are suffering increasing incidences of depression, self harm, neglect and anxiety regarding their families' economic circumstances.
"The HSE services are stretched to capacity and it is to the guidance counsellors that students and parents turn to again and again," she said.
"It is simply not fair on them and the thousands of young people coming through the second-level system."
Meanwhile, the Samaritans are taking an average of almost 730 calls every day -- many from teenagers in despair.
According to the organisation's annual impact report, the number of calls hit a record 265,000 in 2010 -- a nine per cent increase on the previous year. Issues discussed included depression, suicidal thoughts and loneliness.
According to guidance counsellor Catherine Gannon, more and more time is being spent dealing with youngsters in distress -- rather than problems relating to career and college course choices.
"There are 5,000 college courses available to students and they need help in navigating the process of choosing the right course for them -- but, more importantly, guidance counsellors also help students coping with a range of serious personal issues including depression, stress, bereavement, family illness, bullying and self harm," she said.
"All the work done over the past few years in improving this vital area is being undone by the minister. It is penny wise, pound foolish."