ALBERTON -- A shortage of school psychologists within the English Language School Board is threatening to slow down the process for students requiring psychological assessments for learning disabilities or other mental health issues.
This year five of the 10 psychologists who would ordinarily fill 8.4 positions with the ELSB are on leave. That leaves five psychologists filling 4.6 positions, explained board superintendent Cynthia Fleet.
Fleet said the board advertised the opportunities all across the country and received zero interest.
That wasn’t a shock, Fleet admitted. “The pool of candidates is not there,” she said, pointing to a country-wide shortage.
While not shocking, it is of concern, she said, admitting it will slow down the process for students waiting for assessments.
The psychologists, Fleet said, are on leave in accordance with the terms of their collective agreements.
The situation is also of concern to the Psychological Association of P.E.I. (PAPEI) and Conservative Education critic Olive Crane.
“This is going to have, obviously, an impact on the school psychology service on a daily basis, in how many kids they are going to be able to work with and work through in the course of a year,” said PAPEI vice-president Dr. Jacqueline Goodwin.
“The challenge of recruiting and retaining psychologists in PEI’s education and health systems is not a new problem,” PAPEI indicated in a statement Wednesday. “The National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) recommends a school psychologist to student ratio of 1:1000 in order to support basic provision of psychological services to youth in our schools. The reality, based on a 2010 Canadian Institute of Health Information report, is that PEI has a ratio of 1:4000 of psychologists to the entire population of PEI.”
Goodwin said that ratio existed before five ELSB psychologists went on leave. P.E.I., she said, already had one of the poorer ratios in the province. Now, she said. “For children, we’re talking about an even worse ratio.”
Goodwin said her association is also concerned an outmigration of school psychologists will put more pressure on schoolteachers.
Crane said the shortage has the potential of creating a two-tier system, one where people with the financial means or health insurance coverage would be able to obtain private practice services while children of parents who don’t have the means would have to wait. “That’s not fair at all,” she said.
Crane wants to set up a meeting with P.E.I. Education minister Alan McIsaac to press for short- and long-term solutions.
On the short-term, she proposes using some of the money the province is saving from the teaching positions it has eliminated too hire private sector psychologists to help out and, on the long-term to address recruitment and retention. She suggested government look at sponsoring well-educated individuals to take the additional step and become fully-fledged psychologists.
While Fleet admits the waits could grow longer, she insists children are not being left to their own devices.
“There is a whole process and throughout that process there are services that are provided to the student,” she said.
She said the school board, in the interim, is using that available part of its student services allotment from government for school psychologists to hire counseling consultants to support the work of school counselors. The board, she added, might also be able to pay to private practice psychologists to complete 10 to 12 assessments.
“You’re competing for highly trained individuals,” Goodwin said of the identified shortage.
“I think that behooves us, in a place like Prince Edward Island, that we really need to be looking strategically at recruiting and retention strategies.”