NEEDY CHILDREN will have access to up to 4,000 counselling sessions paid for by the Assembly government this year, it has emerged. But draft plans for a national school-based service, revealed this week, have been branded an "insult".
It is claimed that increased access to trained counsellors for every child in Wales will create a healthier school culture. It is also acknowledged, in a report on the proposals, that teachers should not have to take on the role.
But the strategy still needs to be consulted on - 18 months after children's commissioner Peter Clarke said it should actually be in place.
It also comes as Unicef reports that Britain's children are the least happy compared with their peers in 21 other industrialised countries, with more family relationship problems.
Janet Ryder, Plaid Cymru's shadow education spokesperson, said: "Is this how far we have come in two-and-a-half years?
"Not only is this report an insult to Mr Clarke's memory, but also to the many children in Wales who desperately need help."
Mr Clarke, who died of cancer last month, had made the formation of a school-based counselling service a major recommendation of his 2004 Clywch Report.
He accused the Assembly government of dragging its heels when a strategy had not been developed within his 12-month timescale. Now it seems that the service which he hoped would help children with problems ranging from bullying and binge drinking to sexual abuse will not see the light of day for many years to come.
There is also criticism that many children could miss out on help as it is revealed that not even half of Wales's local authorities received a share of extra funding this year.
Only 10 "counselling-friendly" Welsh local authorities will receive an equal share of a pound;200,000 cash boost from the government this year. In 2007-8 a further pound;200,000 will have to be shared between an extra three LAs.
But Jane Davidson, minister for education, lifelong learning and skills, said substantial work had already been done. Last year, she said expected cuts in teacher-training places by 2010 could allow more counsellor training.
But even the government's closest advisers have said that counselling provision is "very little or none" in some parts of Wales.
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