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Education / SIC prepared for possible spike in demand for school counselling service as bairns return to classroom

Photo: Shetland News

EDUCATION officials are “very aware” that there may be increased demand for Shetland’s school counselling service once young folk return to the classroom following their latest period of remote learning from home.

Children’s services director Helen Budge said the council is “absolutely looking at as many ways as we possibly can to secure funding to support this particular area”.

Pupils in Scotland have been returning to the classroom in phases, starting with the youngest bairns.

Secondary pupils are set to have some time in the classroom before returning full-time after the Easter holidays.

A Scottish Government funded secondary school counselling service launched in Shetland last year and it has experienced a high demand so far, with more than 70 cases on the books.

Leighton Anderson. Photo: Shetland News

Shetland member of the Scottish Youth Parliament Leighton Anderson questioned whether the council would be prepared to ask the government for more help if numbers increase when young folk go back to full-time learning in the classroom.

Speaking at a meeting of the council’s education and families committee on Monday, Budge said a possible increase in demand was something officials are aware of.

“There’s also a broader mental health and wellbeing framework, that would possibly support some of what you’re asking about as well, and that is about the mental health of the young folk as they return to school, so there would be national funding available there too,” she continued.

Budge added that children’s services has applied for a grant from the Crown Estate fund to support the “participation pathway”.

“We are absolutely looking at as many ways as we possibly can to secure funding to support this particular area,” she said.

Westside member Catherine Hughson asked whether the council would consider buying in external resources to help tackle the school counselling service waiting list if it became too lengthy.

Quality improvement officer Lesley Simpson said there is capacity to add some external counsellors if needs be.

But she said the waiting list is “very small” at the moment, adding that there is a weekly triage to determine who has the most immediate need.

“All the children and young people who are on our service lists have a link person in school who is able to liaise back and fore with the service too.”

Simpson added that the team works closely with the school nursing service, so if a young person cannot see a counsellor they would be picked up by the nursing service.

MSYP Anderson also asked how the council could support Shetland’s student population with an apparent lack of study space available in the isles.

With universities not yet back full-time a number of students from Shetland have remained in the isles while they learn remotely.

Budge said the library service had been keen to see its learning centre reopen again, while she also noted the library has also run a laptop borrowing service.

She said people could book a space at the learning centre.

But Budge said she was keen to see more discussions held on the matter.

Committee chairman councillor George Smith added that it has been a difficult time for students – but the “message up to now has been to stay at home”, which affects access to public spaces.

“As things hopefully start to open things up a bit more…that flexibility and ability to make things available to students might increase as well, and that’s something that we’d certainly be keen to try and look at,” he said.