Primary schools need counsellors, says head

Last updated 05:00 18/07/2013

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Counsellors are needed in primary schools to help teachers deal with children being prescribed anti-depressants and threatening self-harm, experts say.

A Masterton primary school principal said teachers were not qualified to deal with pupils' suicidal thoughts and having a trained counsellor on site daily, as is the case in secondary schools, would improve pupils' self-worth and lead to fewer exclusions.

Most pupils who were stood down and excluded from primary school had serious behavioural problems, Lakeview principal Ed Hodgkinson said.

"The longer you leave a child without support the more ingrained feelings of [low] self-worth become, which makes it harder to support that child further down the track."

A social worker is based at Lakeview School but is contracted to do other work in the community.

"If we had someone with counselling skills here every day, it would be very beneficial for the children."

The New Zealand Association of Counsellors supports principals' calls for primary schools to get more support to combat behavioural problems and kids acting up in the classroom.

"We regularly deal with students with ADHD, attachment disorder, anxiety and depression," association spokeswoman Sarah Maindonald said.

"Not all of these students will be prone to violent outbursts but some students have multiple stressors which result in a short fuse.

"I've dealt with primary-school children who are being prescribed Prozac and are being medicated for issues where the daily support isn't available until high school."

A lot of counselling support and intervention was at the "bottom end of the cliff" when the problem was already severe, she said. "What we need is intervention at an early age to help combat issues arising from things like child abuse."

She said families attached a lot of stigma to seeking help from Child, Youth and Family or medical professionals.

"Dealing with a lot of these issues at primary school level, where all kids are actually going to school, and offering their families easy and free access would be less stigmatising."

There was proof that counselling services at secondary schools helped keep pupils at school and early intervention would only improve that, she said.

The head of Child Matters - a charitable trust that works to prevent child harm - said nipping issues in the bud early was crucial. "It's about giving children the skills to recognise their behaviour is not a one-off or just a response to something, but actually it's chronic and is displaying on a daily basis," chief executive Anthea Simcock said.

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- The Dominion Post


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