Speaking from the Dáil this evening on psychological services in schools Sinn Féin TD Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin said "Charities are stepping into the void left by Government failure. The fact that the Saint Vincent de Paul Society has privately funded over 1,000 psychological assessments of children and young people is an indictment of Government failure in this regard."
Deputy Ó Caoláin said:
"I welcome the opportunity to address the need for psychological services in our schools that are available to all who need them. The Department of Education must ensure that every child, regardless of where he or she goes to school, has quick access to an educational psychologist on the basis of need. This is not happening.
"Certainly the mechanism and the framework for providing such a service are in place. The establishment of the National Educational Psychological Service Agency (NEPS) in 1999 was very welcome and long overdue.
"NEPS is tasked with providing psychological services in public and private primary and post-primary schools. Its stated aim is to support the personal, social and educational development of all children through the application of psychological theory and practice in education. The Agency has particular responsibility for children with special educational needs.
"But NEPS is hampered in its work due to insufficient numbers of psychologists being recruited. As a result it is not fully operational and it cannot reach its potential in terms of life-changing assistance for children.
"All the experts assert most strongly that early intervention is absolutely vital. With early diagnosis of special educational needs, intervention can be triggered and a child can make significant progress as a direct result.
"The current scenario of school children having to wait far too long to access educational psychologists is extremely damaging to the development of children. The situation where we have children having to wait over two years to access Speech and Language Therapy makes a mockery of Government commitments to early intervention.
"Getting a child assessed is proving extremely difficult for many, many parents. Parents who can afford to do so must resort to expensive private psychological assessments and they are doing so in increasing numbers.
"Charities are stepping into the void left by Government failure. The fact that the Saint Vincent de Paul Society has privately funded over 1,000 psychological assessments of children and young people is an indictment of Government failure in this regard.
"Schoolchildren deserve access to speedy assessments and this will only come when NEPS is adequately resourced. Eight years after its inception NEPS still does not have its promised 200 psychologists. It will have to wait until 2009 to receive the full compliment.
"One estimate has it that 51% of schools do not have access to the service. The number of children in primary schools is set to increase. The number of primary schools is increasing in the major areas of growth and development in this State.
"If the Government does not get its act together more and more children will fall behind.
The Union of Students in Ireland (USI) has pointed out those students with learning disabilities are being let down by the long waiting lists for psychological assessments.
"USI has also highlighted the implications of a new proposal by the Disability Advisors Working Network that students with a specific learning disability should be required to provide a psychological assessment carried out in the past three years to support their third-level CAO application. Because of the long waiting list for a State assessment, students would have no choice but to pay for an expensive private assessment should this new proposal be implemented.
"USI has reported students being forced to wait up to two years for a psychological assessment by the National Educational Psychological Service. A student with learning disabilities who doesn't receive an up-to-date psychological assessment could be missing out on critical educational supports.
"In 2005 the Sinn Féin deputies tabled a Private Members motion on special educational needs and it provoked a very informative debate and, I hope, helped to spur the government on to further action.
"Replying to that debate Education Minister Hanafin stated: "In particular the Minister for Finance is obliged to have due regard to the State's duty to provide for an education appropriate to the needs of every child under the Constitution and the necessity to provide equity of treatment for all children."
"That was a very true statement and I hope it is applied in the forthcoming Budget with increased allocation for special needs education in general and for the psychological assessment service in particular.
"It is imperative that the Government increase resources for NEPS, employ more psychologists immediately and expand the service to all schools to ensure that any child throughout the state who requires an assessment gets one as soon as practical. Our children deserve better."CRÍOCH