Psychologists prefer not to work in New Brunswick schools, groups say

The head of the New Brunswick Teachers Association says the province’s shortage of school psychologists is reaching crisis mode, and students are suffering because of it.

School psychologists are overworked and underpaid, George Daley says, and students suffer for it

George Daley, president of the New Brunswick Teachers Association, says New Brunswick schools are facing a dire shortage of school psychologists. (CBC News)

A shortage of school psychologists is reaching crisis mode, and students are suffering because of it, says the head of the New Brunswick Teachers Association.

George Daley first raised the issue when he was elected president of the association last August, and he has made it a priority, meeting with psychologists across New Brunswick and preparing a report on the issue for the Department of Education.

But he says things aren't getting better.

The province's anglophone school districts have a total of 29 positions for psychologists, but at the beginning of this year, employed only 11 or 12, Daley said. Since then, the number has dropped to seven or eight.

"Across the province, we are struggling," he said. "We cannot get psychologists into the positions.

"It's a dire situation."

We just can't seem to recruit anyone.- Gregg Ingersoll, school superintendent

Students are not getting their needs met, which affects their education and overall well-being, he said.

"What I'm asking now is to put yourself in the situation of the family who has a child who has mental health issues, who may have attempted suicide, a child who can't go to school, a child who needs an academic assessment so we can give them the programming that they need," Daley said.  

"And then not be able to access those services.

"We have those things occurring in the province, and some suffer the ultimate consequence — and that's not academic testing. That rips at my insides. I say that's not acceptable."

Difficult time recruiting

Gregg Ingersoll, the superintendent of Anglophone East School District, says it is hard to recruit school psychologists. (CBC)

Anglophone East superintendent Gregg Ingersoll said districts have had a difficult time recruiting and retaining psychologists for several years.

"We just can't seem to recruit anyone," he said, adding that the district has had several leave for jobs in Nova Scotia or P.E.I.

Daley said he thinks the problem is because school psychologists are overworked and underpaid.

His research found that psychologists were handling anywhere from 2,500 to 7,800 caseloads each, far from the recommended ratio of one school psychologist for every 1,000 students by the National Association of School Psychologists, a professional group based in the U.S. 

"You have to understand what that job is like," Daley said. "You're dealing with people's most personal issues all the time. And if you have an overload of clients, the job just becomes undoable."

He also pointed out that while the top salary for a school psychologist is $74,000 in New Brunswick, the range across the country is between $85,000 and $108,000.

"These are educated people, they've spent a long time in school, and they're in demand. So we need to set up the conditions."

Plenty of psychologists in province 

Dr. Douglas French, the president of the College of Psychologists of New Brunswick, said the impact of the shortage is particularly alarming when you consider that undiagnosed mental health issues or learning disorders can lead to more complex issues as children get older, he said. 

New Brunswick universities are training plenty of psychologists, he said. They're just not as attracted to public-sector jobs in the province for the reasons Daley described, French said. 

And they're not going far, as many of them are leaving for jobs in the public sector in neighbouring Maritime provinces, he said. 

"They could move to Amherst, N.S., and make more money," he said. 

"We don't have to do better, but we need to do as well." 

Daley said he feels he's done all he can do to call attention to the shortage, and it's time for the province to step up.

Minister unavailable 

Education Minister Brian Kenny wasn't available for an interview this week.

In an emailed statement, department spokeswoman Kelly Cormier said the department understands the importance of providing quality services to all children in the school system.

She said school districts recruit and hire employees based on their operational needs, according to a collective agreement that stipulates conditions of employment and salaries.

With files from Information Morning Moncton