British Columbia

'They're in triage mode': school counsellors in Prince George struggling to support students with extra needs

School counsellors in Prince George, B.C. are raising red flags about a lack of mental health resources in schools and the risks of burn out trying to support students.

President of the teachers’ association calling for more funding from province

Counsellors may be the ones feeling the pressure, but it’s the students who are ultimately affected. (iStock)

School counsellors in Prince George, B.C., are raising red flags about a lack of mental health resources in schools and the risks of burn out trying to support students.

Joanne Hapke, president of the Prince George District Teachers' Association in the northern city, said staff are overstretched and struggling to survive the demands of the job without adequate funding.

"At this point, they're in triage mode and not in support mode," Hapke told CBC's Daybreak North.

"It's very concerning."

She said that a chronic lack of funding over the last decade-and-a-half has left schools in District 57 severely under-resourced and understaffed when it comes to helping students who need extra help or support.

"Teachers are finding that they are dealing with more behavior issues, more complex situations than they actually have the training [for]," said Hapke.

"Those needs need to be addressed, so that we can have the classroom teacher teaching the academic subjects that they've been hired to do."

Hopeful for change

Counsellors may be the ones feeling the pressure but, Hapke said, it's the students who are ultimately affected.

"It has a tremendous impact upon their learning," she said.

"We had a generation of students who did not have their needs met and there's a lot of young adults out there now who are struggling."

Hapke said she hopes that by raising awareness about the issue, more funding will follow.

"We are in a bargaining year right now [with the provincial government]," she said.

"So, we're hopeful that we can put forward the needs effectively as we bargain … that the needs get met."

Prince George School Board chair Tim Bennett said he is well aware of the concerns — hearing from staff and parents alike — and promised mental health would be a priority in the upcoming budget consultations. 

"As a community, we have to be concerned," Bennett said. It's an issue that stretches beyond the school, though.

"Mental health is not just an education issue, it's a health issue. It involves multiple ministries," he said. "We're all going to have to come together in support of our kids." 

School counsellors in Prince George, B.C. are raising red flags about a lack of mental health resources in schools and the risks of burn out trying to support students. 6:57

With files from Daybreak North

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