We joined the British Association of Art Therapists (BAAT) at a meeting with Education Minister Michelle McIlveen to discuss the future of Happy Healthy Minds in Northern Ireland.
Jo Holmes, our Children, Young People and Families Lead, and Caryl Sibbett, representing BAAT and BAAT Northern Ireland, met the minister at Stormont.
Happy Healthy Minds aims to provide counselling and other therapy interventions – including art, music, drama, and play therapy – to primary aged school children across Northern Ireland, with schools receiving funding directly to buy in services.
The pilot programme started in June 2020, and we’ve advised on a number of issues linked to professional standards, children and young people competences, relevant counselling experience, and good practice provision and guidance.
It was extended to December after an additional £2.25million investment earlier this year – following our calls with BAAT for funding to allow the programme to continue. We wrote a joint letter requesting funding to extend the programme and its good work into the upcoming academic year.
Opportunities and challenges
The letter also resulted in an invite to meet the minister and talk about opportunities and challenges facing the programme.
Jo and Caryl discussed key themes with the minister based on anecdotal information gathered from BACP members delivering the programme, including the need for improved:
- Quality assurance and governance
- Investment in workforce development and training
- Guidance for primary school counselling intervention
- Research opportunities
- Opportunities for primary school counsellors to network and help steer the programme.
They ended the meeting by inviting the minister to visit a primary school counselling service they’ve been in contact with.
Jo said: “Caryl not only has good working knowledge of the pilot programme in her role as a supervisor with a wide-ranging network of BACP, HCPC, and BAAT practitioners, but she also has extensive experience and knowledge of developing and delivering counselling training to adult practitioners who wish to develop as CYP competent therapists.
“As a former Deputy Chair of BACP, and an active member of the Association, she was able to speak on behalf of the counselling profession on a number of key issues that directly relate to work across Northern Ireland.
“As Vice Chair of BAAT, she also brought in the voice of a different membership body and wider HCPC registered practitioners involved in the delivery of the programme, capturing the therapeutic choice schools currently have access to.”
The minister and Department of Education are awaiting the results of an evaluation of the pilot before any next stages are announced. Its future also depends on available funding.