Montreal

Eastern Townships School Board psychologist position vacant for nearly 2 years

Despite actively looking, the Eastern Townships School Board hasn't been able to fill a vacant psychologist position in nearly two years, and staff with the board say it's affecting the services students are receiving.

Staff with ETSB says there is a 'void' in services, but no one with appropriate qualifications has applied

ETSB Human Resources Director Jeffery Pauw said the board has advertised a psychologist position since June 2014, but no applicants have come forward. (Kate McKenna/CBC)

Despite actively looking, the Eastern Townships School Board (ETSB) hasn't been able to fill a vacant psychologist position in nearly two years, and staff with the board say it's affecting the services students are receiving. 

The school board, which has a quota of four full-time psychologists and one part-time psychologist, has been unable to fill the vacant position since June 2014.

"It does leave a void because we have a lot of schools in a large territory," said Jeffery Pauw, director of human resources for the ETSB.

It does leave a void because we have a lot of schools in a large territory.- Jeffery Pauw, ETSB

Pauw said the school board has advertised by sending job postings to the Order of Psychologists and universities with graduating psychologists, but no one has applied.

Applicants are required to be fluently bilingual, and they must have a doctorate in psychology.

School board psychologists work with students, but they're also able to diagnose learning disabilities or handicaps.

Parents in the lurch

Knowlton resident Amy Brown wasn't surprised when her son's kindergarten contacted her about behavioural issues her son was exhibiting at school. He also struggled in daycare.

She started pediatric occupational therapy for her son Danick immediately, paying large sums out-of-pocket. She put him in the system to be evaluated by a psychologist with the ETSB in March 2014.
Amy Brown's son Danick had to wait a full year before he could see a psychologist with the ETSB. (Kate McKenna/CBC)

He was evaluated a full year later, in March 2015. Ultimately, he was diagnosed with ADHD.

"It's a long time," she said. "It's a long time to live as a family with a child who needs help when you don't know what kind of help they need, or where it's going to come from or whether they'll be resources for it."

I don't think it's enough for any of the kids that are there.- Amy Brown

Danick is now in Grade 2. He has one session per week with a psychologist at Knowlton Academy. He also works with a resource teacher, but Brown says he's still not getting the attention he needs.

"It's not enough for our son. I don't think it's enough for any of the kids that are there," she said.

Stiff competition for recruitment

Pauw believes would-be candidates are instead applying to work for the health department. 

"Right now, the salary for a school board psychologist is lagging behind those in the health centre," said Pauw.

The position requires covering schools across the Townships — a jurisdiction nearly as large as Belgium. Pauw concedes that kind of travel might be less attractive to potential candidates than private practice or working in an office with the health department.

In addition, the Order of Psychologists has boosted its requirements to include a doctorate degree instead of a masters.

Fewer diagnoses could mean losing position

Not being able to find a full-time psychologist creates a circular problem for the school board that could ultimately lead to a loss of the position altogether.

In order to access funding for psychologists and support staff from the province, school boards need to report a certain number of students with diagnosed handicaps to the province.

If this is not done, school boards risk not meeting the quota to get the funding — and thus losing the position altogether.

The remaining psychologists on staff at the ETSB say they are having trouble seeing all of the students who require diagnoses.

Gail Kelso is an employee of the school board who works with special education programs.
Gail Kelso, a school board employee who works in special education, said the board has been paying private psychologists to help with the overflow of students who need help. (Kate McKenna/CBC)

"We need to have a professional in order to assess the students well so we can get the funding to provide the students with that service," she said.

Kelso said for the last year and a half, the school board has been spending the money that was earmarked for a psychologist to instead help pay for private psychologists to treat students.

Another psychologist gone next September

Pauw is only too aware that if the school board is unable to find a new psychologist by September, their situation will get much worse.

Another psychologist is taking a leave of absence as of next September. If the vacant position isn't filled by then, two of the board's four full-time staff psychologist positions will be vacant.

Pauw said he'll continue advertising the position, and hopes someone interested in living in the Townships will consider making the move.

"There are people who choose to move out of the big cities and come to the Townships. They like our style of life out here," he said.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kate McKenna is a journalist with CBC News. kate.mckenna@cbc.ca.

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