Significant parts of your son or daughter’s life are played out in the school setting, an environment parents are largely removed from.
Schools do have the best interests of young people at heart. They have a legal obligation to support mental health as stated in the 1998 Education Act.
The role of a school is to: “promote the moral, spiritual, social and personal development of students and to provide health education for them in consultation with their parents.”
SPHE is curriculum dedicated space for ‘Social, Personal and Health Education’. It’s included on the school curriculum in primary and secondary schools, but it’s only covered up to Junior Cert. There is a senior cycle SPHE curriculum but not all schools include it.
Anecdotally, we know that many young people think SPHE is under-valued and is not taken seriously.
Parents can encourage the importance of SPHE in schools. Let school management, principals and teachers know the subject SPHE is important to you in the context of your son or daughter’s mental health.
You can also ask to speak with your child’s SPHE teacher during parent-teacher meetings to see how they’re doing in this subject.
Make sure you know about the support structures in place in your child’s school. Often, we’re too concerned about academic success and achievement to pay attention to other school services. But, they can help with your son/daughter’s overall development, including academic ability.
Support for students in school will often come from a guidance counsellor. Their role usually covers some personal counselling along with education and career counselling.
However, if a student needs ongoing personal counselling that support is usually provided outside of the school setting.
As well as a whole-school guidance plan, further supports in the education system include the National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS). NEPS work with schools to provide individual student assessments and to support the school community following a critical incident.
The HSE also offer support in the wider community through GP services and CAMHS (child and adolescent mental health services).
If you’re unsure about what’s in place at the school, ask the principal about the school guidance plan.
In the education system, a ‘whole-school’ approach is often mentioned:
“An approach which goes beyond the learning and teaching in the classroom to pervade all aspects of the life of the school. This includes involvement by students, teachers, principals, all other school staff, health personnel, school managers, school visitors and the wider school community who interact with the school.”
The influence of school on the mental health and wellbeing of your son or daughter doesn’t have to be a mystery. As parents, you’re an important part of the wider school community, so take your place in that community and get involved.
If you’re concerned about a young person, find out about the supports available in their school and go outside of the school setting to get support and advice if you need to.