Family issues cause troubles for youngsters but bullying on wane
Increasing numbers of young children are arriving in school with emotional problems because of family matters, school heads have warned.
More than half of principals identified issues such as martial breakdown, financial difficulties and bereavement as their greatest challenge when it came to pupil welfare.
Meanwhile, one in four said high anxiety levels in children was a growing problem requiring attention.
The findings emerged in a recent survey by the Irish Primary Principals' Network (IPPN), in which almost 500 primary principals or deputy principals participated.
Meanwhile, one in four primary principals reported a drop in the level of school-based bullying.
The principals have noted the changes since the introduction of revised Department of Education anti-bullying guidelines in 2014.
However, 66pc said there had been no change over the three year period, while 9pc said the problem had worsened.
IPPN president Maria Doyle welcomed the drop in bullying behaviours noted by one in four principals and said "the landscape is not all doom and gloom".
But she expressed concern about what the survey is saying about the emotional wellbeing of pupils in the country's 3,300 primary schools
Ms Doyle said schools were involved in the rollout of programmes to support pupils in matters of welfare but said they needed more resources to help them deal with issues around children's mental and emotional health.
Speaking at the IPPN annual conference, Ms Doyle said that fewer than 22pc of principals felt adequately trained to identify mental health issues in children.
"The Department of Education must be more proactive in providing training for educators and funding for targeted emotional wellbeing programmes so that increasing levels of childhood depression and anxiety, as identified in our survey, are halted as a matter of urgency," she said.
A report last year by the IPPN on emotional wellbeing in primary schools found that, while principals and teachers were not trained to diagnose or resolve emotional and mental health problems among their students or their families, there were some actions that could be taken by schools to support these children and their families, provided the required supports and training were provided at a national level.
According to the IPPN, children can present with a very wide range of emotional issues on a spectrum of emotional wellbeing, from complete wellness on one end to suicidal at the other.
While the supports available at the more extreme end are relatively well known, they say it is less clear where to go for help when a child displays distress or the school becomes aware of some dysfunction at home.
"In other words, there is a need for a clear 'continuum of support' to meet the varying needs right across the spectrum," the report states.