The Healthy Happy Minds Therapeutic and Counselling Service Pilot was launched by the Minister for Education in November 2021 to provide counselling and other therapies.
Sinn Féin Portadown representative Clare McConville-Walker said: “Cuts to the Happy Healthy Minds school counselling service are hugely disappointing. As a teacher myself I know loss of this important service will have a negative impact on children and remove vital mental health support for young people in our schools.
“Sinn Féin has made that clear to the Department of Education and highlighted the need for more investment in young people's mental health.”
Alliance Upper Bann MLA Eóin Tennyson has spoken of his deep disappointment at the news that the Healthy Happy Minds programme is at risk of being scrapped in light of significant budget cuts within the Department of Education.
Mr Tennyson said: “Healthy Happy Minds is a fantastic and much-needed programme offering vital support to our most vulnerable children and young people. It’s a sorry state of affairs that this scheme is now being put at risk due to budget cuts.
“Alliance has long called for counselling services in primary schools, and we strongly believe this is the most effective way to support those children who are in the greatest need.
“With Healthy Happy Minds putting such an emphasis on early intervention, they are making an immediate difference to the mental health of our children and young people, and are in turn improving their quality of life and general life chances going forward.
“With that in mind, the scheme also then has the potential to play an important role in saving public money which would otherwise be spent on more extensive interventions in adulthood.
“Education services in Northern Ireland have been starved of adequate funding for many years and we are already in a situation where spending on pupils in Northern Ireland is lower than any other part of the UK. Our most vulnerable children and young people should not be the casualties of budgetary uncertainty and cuts.
"Alliance has raised the issue of funding for Healthy Happy Minds consistently and robustly with both the Department of Education and the Education Authority on several occasions.
“Across all sectors, the consequences of not having a devolved government are increasingly clear. We urgently need to see the restoration of a functioning Executive and Assembly in order to see decisive action taken in relation to schemes such as this.”
A Department of Education spokesperson said: “The Healthy Happy Minds Therapeutic and Counselling pilot is operating until the end of March 2023.
“The programme is subject to an independent evaluation and DE is expecting this to be completed by the end of March 2023.
“Current indications are that DE will be given an extremely challenging budget outcome for 2023-24, and therefore, it is unlikely that the Department will be in a position to continue with this pilot after the end of March.”