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Counselling is finally on way

Assembly government announces pastoral strategy as Bridgend crisis deepens

Work is finally under way to develop a national counselling service in Wales's schools, nearly four years after it was recommended.

The Assembly government said this week that a strategy would be published in the next few months to provide "independent, safe and accessible" help for young people in a crisis.

The announcement comes with the latest suspected teenage suicide in Bridgend. Jenna Parry, 16, was found dead in a woodland area this week, bringing the tally of young people found dead to 17 in one year.

This week Wales's health minister Edwina Hart also announced the speeding up of a parallel national suicide-prevention strategy. But the news was greeted with criticism by mental health charity Mind Cymru, which claimed that Wales was "still lagging behind".

Attempts to tackle high suicide rates in the Bridgend area come as the headteacher of a school attended by the youngest suspected victim, 15-year-old Nathaniel Pritchard, speaks out in The TES this week over the need for trained counsellors in schools (page 14).

Dr Chris Davies, head of Brynteg Comprehensive in Bridgend, says there should be a minimum of one nurse and counsellor in each school. He says his school could find enough work for four but currently has employed two part-time.

The development of an all-Wales counselling service in schools was recommended by Peter Clarke, the former children's commissioner for Wales, in his landmark Clywch report in which he lamented the lack of support for young people.

The Assembly government was accused last year of dragging its heels in implementing the service. Mr Clarke had said it should be set up within 18 months in his June 2004 report.

Just before his death from cancer last year, Mr Clarke attacked the government for a lack of action over the recommendation - one of a far-reaching 31.

In 2007, ministers promised pound;400,000 over two years to improve counselling services in specific education authorities, including Bridgend. This made around 4,000 counselling sessions available to half the schools in Wales, but a national schools-based service is still a long way off.

The final strategy should have been published in the autumn following consultation on the draft last year, meaning there has been a further delay.

Officials also say existing services have to be destigmatised.

"There does need to be more sustainability so it becomes part of the authorities' core service," says Eirlys Lloyd, a volunteer at the Samaritans branch in Aberystwyth. "Schools are one way, but not the whole way; some people may be excluded so they are not going to reach those services."

Janet Ryder, Plaid Cymru's education spokesperson, said there was still "outstanding issues" related to the Clywch Report that the government needed to work on.

An Assembly government spokesperson said: "More than pound;6.5 million has been set aside between 2008-9 and 2010-11 for the final strategy. The strategy relates to formal counselling, and this is one of several services that help to support the health, emotional and social needs of pupils."

Feature, pages 14-15.

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