The Goa State Commission for Protection of Child Rights under its function, with a mandate to analyse existing policy and practice affecting children, organized a joint meeting on 13th April, 2023 at Conference Hall, Secretariat, Porvorim, with stakeholders to discuss the status of counselling services in school setting and ways to strengthen the same. The meeting had representatives from Child Rights Commission, Directorate of Education, Psychiatric Society of Goa and Sangath.
Peter F. Borges, Chairperson of the Goa State Commission for Protection of Child Rights, in his opening remarks, said that children spend most of their time in school and their problems can be identified, dealt with, and improved through counselling, thus, avoiding big damages. He further said that school students, who are at the peak of vulnerability at this age, need a safe space and a neutral and non-judgemental counsellor who understands their feelings and helps them to ventilate their feelings and emotions.
There is a vacuum created in the lives of children with change in lifestyle, upbringing of children, growth of technology, emergence of nuclear family, and lack of guidance, creating a need to be heard and confide their problems. Various contemporary psychological problems such as depression, anxiety, school refusal, gaming disorders, relationship problems, conflict with parents, using gadgets excessively, insomnia, suicide attempts, substance abuse, learning and behavioural problems are on rise in school setting.
He also cited the growing concern about undetected adolescent pregnancies in advanced stages being found in school setting with no counsellors, arising out of abuse as well as romantic relationships. Hence, the Commission has come up with certain recommendations, with inputs by stakeholders, to enhance the current nature and scope of mental health interventions in educational institutions.
The Honourable Commission has called for universal coverage of counselling scheme as currently only 295 schools are covered with 85 counsellors, implemented by Goa Educational Development Corporation. Further, a long-term plan to create and introduce an exclusive permanent position of counsellors in all schools is recommended to address the huge mental health gap that has been emerging lately, post COVID-19 pandemic.
The Commission also recommends an advisory creating an enabling environment for counsellors by the management for exercise of their roles and including the counsellors in decision making that is dominated by mainstream teachers and administrators. The demand generation for counselling services should be promoted in the school and the counsellors should not be a replacement for teachers.
The revision of Standard Operating Procedure maintained by the Goa Educational Development Corporation has also been recommended to bring in more defined clarity of roles for the counsellor, including preventive education and timely reporting of abuse cases, leading to better mental health outcomes and handling of trails of the cases as per law.
Lastly, the Commission has proposed a capacity building module for counsellors developed by Sangath to address all the contemporary issues of students.