Thursday, March 29, 2018

Changes needed for school psychologists

Sixty-six kilometres.

If a person wishing to work as a school psychologist drove this distance beginning in Moncton and stopping in Amherst, Nova Scotia the difference in their profession would be immense.

On the New Brunswick side the caseload is anywhere from two to seven times higher than the ratio recommended by the National Association of School Psychologists. The pay could be anywhere from $10,000-25,000 higher just from that short drive.

It's no wonder our province struggles to recruit and retain school psychologists, a group represented by the New Brunswick Union (NBU). While this issue has recently received some much needed attention in the media, it's not new information to the current or previous political administrations.

The NBU has brought this issue forward to government on numerous occasions. It's not difficult to understand, if people are drastically overworked and underpaid, then attracting and retaining skilled professionals will be difficult.

The ripple effect from this issue is very problematic. Students cannot access important mental health service in a prompt manner as the demands far outweigh the school psychologists available. This can lead to increased mental health issues for the student as well anxiety and stress for all involved including parents, teachers, administrators and psychologists.

So what can be done to begin to fix this situation. In terms of pay, we need to be competitive with surrounding provinces as well as with other psychologists working in the public sector. If all is equal or close, then it's more likely people would chose to stay and work rather than uproot their lives and families to another province.

Another way to make the job more attractive is to have school psychologists - who are employed by school districts - to work the same schedules as teachers, including the summer break.

Since they are employed by the district, there should be little to no interference from Horizon or Vitalité in terms of setting priorities for psychologists. We need to ensure school psychologists have the autonomy to do what's best for students in terms of their education and well-being.

When the most recent provincial budget was unveiled, Finance Minister Cathy Rogers announced, "government will invest $2.5 million to support improved mental health outcomes in the province."

They have an opportunity to do just that when it comes to school psychologists. Politicians time and again say they prioritize education and healthcare, it's time to back up those words with actions and take immediate measures to improve mental health in our schools.