Northern Ireland news

Northern Ireland Youth Forum calls for school mental health support services to be private and confidential

Rachel Woods, Green Party assembly member, pictured at the `Have Your Say Day' on Education, which was organised by the Northern Ireland Youth Forum. She is pictured with participants Nicole Parkinson-Kelly, Shannon Turley, Ethan Redmond, Rachel Marcus, Eoin Millar, Adam Parkinson-Kelly, and John Marcus
Marie Louise McConville

MENTAL health support services in schools should to be private and confidential, the Northern Ireland Youth Forum has urged.

The issue was one of several topics which were discussed by young people taking part in the first of a series of Have Your Say Days, which have been organised by the Northern Ireland Youth Forum (NIYF).

The young people at the event, held on UN World Children’s Day, felt that counselling services should take place outside class time.

Nicole Parkinson-Kelly, Vice-Chair of the NIYF, said it was incredibly important that any changes to mental health support services were approved by young people.

"We need a strict commitment to privacy and confidentiality," she said.

"I remember being given my appointment slip every Tuesday morning in front of the whole class and my appointments took place during class time, so everyone knew I was accessing counselling services.

"Adding the option of accessing services outside of class time would reduce the stress of catching up on classwork and would help provide privacy as you wouldn’t be notably absent from class."

She added: "School mental health champions could pave the way with this work and create safe spaces and methods for feedback from pupils to ensure the services offered are meeting the needs of young people."

Other topics discussed included the need to change rigid rules on uniforms, the curriculum, special educational needs assessment, youth voice, equality of opportunity, careers, and teacher training.

The young people called for school uniforms to be changed to reflect an increasingly diverse Northern Ireland.

Louisa Ward, a Participation Development Worker at the NIYF, said: "Many of the participants felt that the traditional uniforms were sexist and uncomfortable.

"They said that on the days when they could wear a PE uniform of polo shirts and tracksuit bottoms with the school badge, they felt much more comfortable and ready to learn."

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