Counselling service long overdue

What a shame the creation of a national school-based counselling service is taking much longer than Peter Clarke, Wales's children's commissioner, wanted (page 1). But it seems that until we have enough trained counsellors to sort out the plethora of problems that British children are supposed to have today, there is no quick or easy fix. An extra 4,000 counselling sessions suggests a lot of desperate and unhappy children.

Clearly, we are years off being able to provide the kind of services Mr Clarke wanted for pupils in Wales, and it seems some local authorities should take a lot of the flack for that. It goes without saying that teachers will continue to offer as much pastoral support as they can to children who need help in the absence of an alternative.

But children's problems go much further than a once-a-week counselling session or a heart-to-heart with Mr Jones during break. It has gone too far for that.

Out of 21 industrialised countries, the United Nations children's fund (Unicef), has found that UK children are not only the fattest and most miserable but are more likely to binge-drink, get pregnant as teenagers and live in poverty and domestic discord. Where did we all go wrong?

It has been said that Unicef's conclusions are based on dated evidence, but it reflects badly on the nation even so. Should we not look more at the cause, not the remedy? It's an enormous task and one that a mere pound;400,000 over two years is unlikely to fulfil.

Mr Clarke saw the need for a national counselling service so much that he wanted a strategy drawn up just 12 months after publication of his Clywch report. But helping pupils should not be left to private sessions with counsellors - because that appears to tell us one thing: children are crying out to be heard. It is up to all of us to find time in our busy lives to listen to them

* Let's hope the Assembly government's new Food in Schools co-ordinator does not start vetting what teachers put in their lunchboxes, especially after hearing how much the successful candidate for the post will earn (page 7). That alone should be enough to make any head struggling to make ends meet reach for the comfort of a chocolate bar and something more "medicinal" in the evening.

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