A new counselling service is being rolled out by Shetland Islands Council’s schools service following a major funding boost from the Scottish government.
Almost £200,000 has been earmarked for SIC to cover this financial year, with a further £255,000 being allocated each financial year until 2023.
A senior practitioner will be appointed as part of the process at a cost of £45,000.
The funding will help provide counselling to any pupils aged 10 or over.
But elected members have raised questions over how the service will be delivered, with demands being placed on the council to meet a September 2020 deadline described as “really tight”.
Plans were outlined before members of the education and families committee on Monday.
Director of children’s services Helen Budge said the idea had first appeared in the First Minister’s programme for government, where Nicola Sturgeon made a commitment that there would be counselling in secondary schools.
Mrs Budge said officials had been surprised by the allocation of funds.
“Funding detail has now been forthcoming,” she said. “We have £197,000 for this year, which is a lot more than we thought we would receive.”
Earlier in the meeting, mental health was highlighted as a key “devolved”, or Scottish-level, priority for isles pupils following a ballot of school children.
A presentation was given to the committee by MSYPs Jonathan Dorrat and Leighton Anderson.
Papers before members highlighted the use of independent counsellors in the short term, allowing the level of need to be assessed throughout settings across the isles.
Head of finance Jamie Manson said efforts were being made to bring qualified professionals into the roles, adding it was up to each local authority to decide how to spend its allocation of funds.
Mrs Budge added that the council was eager to ensure that measures “is right for here”. With an eye on the longer term, job profiles for a senior practitioner and counsellor had also been drawn up in line with recommendations from the Scottish government.
It came after Shetland North member Emma Macdonald raised questions over capacity. Her Shetland West counterpart Catherine Hughson wondered how the service could be “practically delivered,” not least because of the time taken to train up counsellors.
“To become a trained counsellor doesn’t happen overnight,” Ms Hughson said.
“If you don’t have capacity there, how are you going to meet the demand? There is huge demand at the moment across the board. The timescale of September 2020 is really tight.”
Ms Hughson later called on Shetland College to re-introduce a counselling course it had previously run.
Chairman George Smith said it was important the council was “as imaginative as it possibly can be, to take advantage of the funding”.
“There’s all these considerations to keep in mind, but it’s a very welcome initiative,” he said.