Dáil Éireann - Volume 553 - 26 June, 2002

Ceisteanna – Questions (Resumed). Priority Questions. - Psychological Service.

  48. Mr. Stanton asked the Minister for Education and Science the measures he intends to take to improve the psychological services at primary and secondary school level; the typical waiting times and the number of children currently awaiting psychological assessment; the number of psychologists employed by his Department at each level; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14945/02]

  Mr. N. Dempsey: The National Educational Psychological Service was established on 1 September 1999 and is an executive agency of my Department. The development plan for NEPS provides for a gradual expansion over a period of years, with the number of psychologists in the educational system increasing gradually to 200. Notwithstanding the time-consuming nature of recruitment competitions for professional staff, there are now approximately 100 psychologists in the educational system, including 86 psychologists in NEPS – double the number that were in the post on establishment date.

  The Civil Service and Local Appointments Commission has now completed the selection of a further 69 psychologists for NEPS. It is envisaged that almost 40 of these psychologists will be in post by the end of this year and the process of clearing and calling the remaining psychologists on the panel will then go ahead. NEPS has delegated authority to develop and provide an educational psychological service to all students in primary and post-primary schools and in certain other centres supported by the Department. Provision of assessments is part of the work of the educational psychologists in NEPS.

[1334]   The educational psychologists in NEPS address the need for psychological assessments in the schools they serve and also provide advice on the identification and screening of children who might need to be assessed. It will take some time for the backlog of assessment work to be dealt with, but good progress is being made. The psychologists do not keep waiting lists of children requiring assessment in the sense of lists of names that are worked through in order. Each psychologist is responsible for a number of named schools and visits each on a regular basis. The school authorities provide names of children who are giving cause for concern and discuss the relative urgency of each case during the psychologist's visits. That allows the psychologists to give early attention to urgent cases and such children will be seen or referred on in weeks, if not days. Where cases are less urgent, the psychologist will, as a preliminary measure, act as a consultant to teachers and parents, offer advice about educational and behavioural plans and monitor progress.

  Of the 86 psychologists currently working in NEPS, 13 work exclusively in post-primary schools. The majority of psychologists, however, provide a service to all schools, primary and post-primary, within a specified geographical area. This allows for tracking children, particularly those with special educational needs, from one school to the next.

Additional Information  The number of national schools served by NEPS has now increased to almost 2,000. As each additional psychologist is appointed, more national schools will be added to the NEPS list until all have access to the service. Pending the expansion of NEPS to all schools in the country, my Department has allocated funding to NEPS to allow for the commissioning of psychological assessments from private practitioners. NEPS has issued details of how to avail of this scheme to all schools and has made recommendations to top management in the Department in relation to the enhancement of the scheme during the coming school year.

  Mr. Stanton: I wish the Minister well and hope he will be pro-active. We will challenge him at every opportunity to do a good job as the country needs it. Does the Minister agree it is strange that he cannot tell us the level of need in schools for psychological assessments? That question has been asked on a number of occasions, but we always get the same reply. I am disappointed the reply is a repeat of a reply given a couple of months ago. Has the Minister any idea of the level of need? Does he agree that there is a two year waiting list in many schools for psychological assessments of the needs of four and five year olds? It is causing stress and strain among teachers, parents and small children. Can the Minister find out the level of need and inform the [1335] House as soon as possible? It should not be difficult to do that.

  Mr. N. Dempsey: The need for psychologists and improved and increased psychological services was recognised by my predecessors. As a result, NEPS was set up and given the task of supplying psychological services to primary and post-primary schools. It is estimated that the psychological service, NEPS, covers approximately 2,000 primary schools in the system at present. The Deputy may be aware that there are approximately 3,172 primary schools in the system. I referred to the waiting lists in my reply. There are not any waiting lists. The service is provided to everyone who needs it within those schools. I do not anticipate that I will be in a position to give the Deputy such information at any time in the future.

  Mr. Stanton: Does the Minister agree it is a mess? If he wants to plan for a psychological service in our schools, he must have some idea of the need. It cannot be that difficult to ask the psychologists to give the Department and NEPS a list of their case loads. Is the Minister aware that in many schools children have been waiting for more than two years and that it is causing hardship? What will he do about it? Will NEPS have its full complement of psychologists by the end of this year as guaranteed by his predecessor?

  Mr. N. Dempsey: My aim and that of NEPS is to provide a psychological service to every school in the State. Where individual assessments and urgent cases need to be looked after—

  Mr. Stanton: They are all urgent.

  Mr. N. Dempsey: They are not all urgent. There are different levels of psychological need which require psychological assessment.

  Mr. Stanton: The Minister should tell that to the parents.

  Mr. N. Dempsey: Cases of urgent need are dealt with within weeks or days, if necessary. The psychologists serving the schools give the necessary advice to both parents and educationalists. The aim is to provide a psychological service which covers all the schools in the State. I outlined at the outset that there are 86 psychologists working in NEPS and another 40 will be employed before the end of this year. That is in accordance with the aims and the plan which has been put in place to provide a proper service.

  An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: That concludes priority questions. We now move on to other questions. I remind the House that supplementary questions are limited to a maximum of one minute and the replies to these questions by the Minister are limited to one minute.