We met with ministers to discuss the recommendations of a new review into school and community-based counselling services in Wales.
The review was carried out by the Welsh Government and Cardiff University and assessed the fitness for purpose of existing provision for children and young people aged 11 to 18.
It also considered whether to extend services to primary school-aged children aged four to 11.
The researchers mapped current school and community-based counselling provision across Wales and found significant variation in service delivery and monitoring, consulting with primary and secondary school aged children and young people, parents and carers, school staff, local authority counselling service leads and other key stakeholders.
Jo Holmes, our Children, Young People and Families Lead, who was involved in a steering group linked to the research, said: "This review of independent school and community counselling provision in Wales offers valuable insight into existing specialist children and young people statutory counselling and what we need to build upon.
“We know that demand for counselling is high, waiting lists can be problematic and service capacity is often over-stretched.
“We welcome the recommendations outlined below for an optimised and extended service, including counselling provision for younger children, while acknowledging workforce capacity and access to training courses will need to adapt to meet this growing demand.”
Emma Davies, of our Children, Young People and Families Executive division and counselling director of The Exchange, who deliver services in Wales and Scotland, said: “The report highlights some of the challenges counselling services face as they work alongside the rich variety of school cultures and communities, while also aligning to local initiatives and adhering to national guidance.
“The whole school approach promotes building a strong system of support around children and young people with choice, tailoring and flexibility at the heart of what we do.
“In order to achieve this, it’s important for counselling services to adapt and evolve with the ecosystems that young people sit within and to work collaboratively in order to remain current.”
Emma, Jo and our member Alison Theaker, Head of Counselling Services for Eye-to-Eye, met Jeremy Miles, Minister for Education and Welsh Language, and Lynne Neagle, Deputy Minister for Health and Wellbeing, to discuss the recommendations of the report and explore best practice ways forward.
A summary of key recommendations:
- Counselling services should be extended to primary school-aged children in Wales. They should adopt a whole education system approach as recommended for secondary school aged children and young people. However, some tailoring of services will be necessary to meet the developmental needs of this group (e.g. type of therapeutic approach)
- School and community-based counselling services should adhere to a core set of principles, values and ethical considerations. A child-centred ethos should underpin services, with children and young people being offered choice, tailoring and flexibility
- A set of core features should characterise a future high-quality school and community-based counselling service in Wales. These include: a range of referral routes, a combination of appointment and drop-in sessions, a range of therapeutic approaches, a designated and appropriate space, and a range of delivery formats
- School and community-based counselling should be delivered by specialist counsellors with a professional registration. Service capacity will likely need to be increased to meet the needs of an optimised and extended service. Attention should be given to the diversity of counsellor identities
- Primary school and secondary school-aged children and young people should be provided with more information about counselling services. This information should consider the aims of counselling, the identity of the counsellor, how confidentiality will be maintained, the cost of provision, and what children and young people may experience when they attend
- Universal mental health and well-being provision should be made available to primary and secondary school-aged children and young people. This should include holistic, wraparound support for counselling services, which may include curriculum lessons, peer-led activities and staffed support
- School and community-based counselling services should assess and record the mental health and well-being of primary and secondary school aged children and young people using services. Data should be collected before and after counselling has been received, preferably with an outcome assessment being conducted at multiple time points after a young person has engaged with services. Outcomes should be measured with use of validated outcome measurements. The Welsh Government should make arrangements to ensure data availability, at least on a representative sample basis, which can be put to use for robust monitoring and evaluation of services
Additional recommendations were made linked to school staff training, strengthening mental health and well-being culture (supported by strong leadership), more multi-agency working and key stakeholder engagement, including with children and young people, parents and carers and all those working with this age group. It was also recommended that core principles should underpin any stakeholder relationships.