English schools in N.B. are facing a chronic lack of school psychologists. Here’s why.

Click to play video: 'Shortage of school psychologists in N.B. continues to be problem'
Shortage of school psychologists in N.B. continues to be problem
WATCH: The shortage of school psychologists continues to be a problem in New Brunswick. Currently, there are only six in the Anglophone school system and Education Minister Bill Hogan says that graduates to fill the vacancies are unlikely to be found in the coming years. Silas Brown reports. – Apr 11, 2024

New Brunswick’s education minister says the chronic lack of school psychologists in the anglophone school system is in large part due to the lack of graduates coming from higher learning institutions.

“There’s not a whole lot of candidates that are, or are going to be, available,” Education Minister Bill Hogan told a legislative committee earlier this week.

Hogan told the committee that only six school psychologists are serving the 70,000 students in the anglophone sector, while government estimates peg the number needed to be around 40. The situation is much better in the francophone system where there are only four vacancies.

The chair of the Anglophone East District Education Council Harry Doyle told Global News that the shortages aren’t for lack of trying, but a complete lack of candidates.

“There’s just none available,” he said.

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School psychologists provide mental health interventions and administer psycho-educational assessments, which can identify student learning challenges. They’re integral in crafting learning plans for pupils which look to set them up for long-term success in the school system.

“We really need early access to services in order to intervene early, prevent long-term consequences, long-term problems for youth,” said Dr. Diane LaChapelle, the director of clinical training in the Department of Psychology at the University of New Brunswick.

“The earlier we can intervene the more long lasting effects we can have, the better outcomes we can have for children.”

LaChapelle agrees that a training gap is a large reason for the number of vacancies in the anglophone sector. She adds that the lack of qualified staff has caused a feedback loop in their ability to help supply graduates to fill those same gaps.

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All students graduating from UNB’s clinical psychology PhD are qualified to work with children but not all choose to do so. And if they do, it’s difficult to break into the school system.

Because of the lack of psychologists working in schools, LaChapelle said it’s been about a decade since a student in the clinical psychology PhD program has been able to complete their advanced practicum in the school system.

“We have this chicken and the egg thing where there aren’t school psychologists in the anglophone district,” she said. “That provides challenges with getting students in there to do training, to get experience, to see what it’s like to work in the schools and to find that passion and the joy of working in that system.”

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The training gap has been a source of consternation for the province’s Child and Youth Advocate, Kelly Lamrock, since he began his mandate two years ago.

“We have a training gap because we’ve continued to define this as a recruitment problem rather than a supply program,” he said. “There’s not jurisdiction in North America right now that’s sitting around going ‘Oh now, what are we going to do with all of these extra psychologists.'”

Lamrock called for a training summit in a past report that would help find solutions for the human resource challenges in the sector.

“Let’s define what the standards should be for young people, how many people are we going to need to do it, what are the resources the post-secondary sector will need to do it,” he said. “Get everyone in the room and defining the problem and options will make more sense than trying to recruit something doesn’t exist.”

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UNB, the College of Psychologists and the province are working on solutions. LaChapelle said the psychology department is looking at doubling the number of seats in its clinical psychology PhD program to 12 and focusing on accepting New Brunswick students with the hope that they are more likely to remain in the province to work.

There are also discussions around the hiring of independent psychologists to work in the school system on a temporary basis to provide supervision and training to those in the PhD program.

Further discussions are being had about the creation of a program for psychologist assistants, or technicians, who would be able to administer tests and assessments, freeing up psychologists to interpret results and create corresponding plans.

While that takes place, Hogan is adamant that the needs of kids are currently being met as schools hire private psychologists on an as needed basis.

New Brunswick also began allowing some specially trained teachers to administer psycho-educational assessments a few years ago, a move that was panned by the College of Psychologists at the time.

Lamrock said it’s hard to tell if that practice is meeting the need, since there is a lack of standards for wait times and of data collection to see where needs are being met and where they are not. But ultimately, he says, the solution appears to be same: the training gap needs to be closed.

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“The private sector … is also strained. You still probably have fewer psychologists than you would like given the rates of mental health crisis we’re seeing,” he said. “We certainly need more in both sectors and that’s going to come back to that training based solution.”

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