THE state’s educational psychologist service for school-going children is “grossly under-funded” and its ratio of psychologists to pupils is much higher than the European average, with 5,000 pupils to each psychologist, instead of 3,000 to one.
National social policy officer with St Vincent de Paul Audry Deane maintains that the National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS) has been under-resourced since day one, and that children in need are falling through the cracks.
NEPS is a free service provided by the Department of Education and works to assess and support children with special educational needs.
The SVP has an agreement with NEPS in which it sometimes pays for educational psychological assessments which are not dealt with under the NEPS scheme.
Ms Deane said, however, there is an onus on schools to try to source an assessment under the scheme before approaching SVP.
“Practice varies across the country as to who approaches SVP for help. Some principals are very proactive and seem to view us as an extension of the scheme, which the organisation very definitely is not,” she said.
“There is a joint protocol between NEPS and the SVP and we work together to try and get the best outcomes, but there are still kids who are not getting the help they need as NEPS is an under-funded service.”
Ms Deane said family circumstances that may prevent assessment are a major concern.
She said: “It is appalling to think there are children who need assessments but who are not getting them because they cannot afford to get an assessment.”
A child cannot get special help in schools until they are professionally assessed to prove they need help.
While the Programme for Government had a target of 210 psychologists the National Recovery Plan imposed a cap of 178. There are several counties which do not have any NEPS officers allocated to them.
According to the department, the roll-out of a significant number of new recruits and the associated training is a significant operation underway at present.
However, they said rolling out the service with the newly-recruited psychologists to achieve full coverage of schools will take time.
A spokeswoman said no child in urgent need of an assessment will be refused one.
She said NEPS and representatives of the SVP met during 2007/2008 to specifically discuss the matter of its conferences countrywide responding to requests for funding of educational psychological assessments from parents and some schools.
The spokeswoman said: “Detail of NEPS’ function, structure and process were outlined and clarified to SVP and a protocol was agreed.
“This process allowed for direct approach to the local NEPS to gauge the need and appropriateness of assessment in the individual cases raised and an agreement that where such need was apparent that NEPS would provide the necessary assessment.
“Very few approaches have been made to NEPS personnel in this regard since the protocol was circulated,” she said.
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