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					Ῥsychology primer: psychology in schools

Psychologists in Nova Scotia Schools: a Guide for Parents                                   School Psychologists:
Have you met with a psychologist in a school recently? If you are a school teacher,        • understand educational policies and issues
administrator or parent of a child receiving services you have probably attended an          because they work within the educational
assessment feedback or program planning meeting with a psychologist during the               system
school year. While you may never meet the psychologist that serves your local school,      • understand the viewpoints of the many
for many children and families the school-based psychologist is the first and the only       stakeholders in the educational system
psychologist they will ever meet. If you are the parent of a child waiting for an            because their work requires their regular and
assessment, support, or intervention services, getting to meet the school’s psychologist     direct contact with students, teachers,
may be taking longer than you would like.                                                    parents, and the community
How Psychologists Fit in the School System                                                 • respond over long periods of time to students
                                                                                             and situations that are chronic in nature (e.g.
For the Nova Scotia Department of Education, psychologists in the schools are                disruptive behaviour disorders, learning
“professional support staff ”. That means that psychologists employed by school              disabilities) and understand how these
boards generally serve multiple schools and travel circuits that may cover more than         problems and situations affect and are
one county. While travel may be reduced in urban areas, school populations tend to           affected by the classroom
be larger and the psychologists may be assigned to seven or more schools. There are
approximately 82 psychologists employed across the regional school boards in Nova          • bring a scientific, research-based and
Scotia. That number is based in part on the Nova Scotia Department of Education’s            objective approach to the analysis and
current “core professional service ratio” of 2,500 students to one psychologist.             assessment of students’ learning, behavioural
                                                                                             and emotional problems
The Minister’s Review of Services for Students with Special Needs recommended a            • have the tools to systematically measure
review of that ratio as recently as 2007. The Nova Scotia Department of Education            change in behaviour over time
is scheduled to release new guidelines for the delivery of psychological services in       • have the training to carry out psychological
schools in the very near future. A psychologist who works in the school system may           assessment of students’ cognitive and learning
have been employed in the educational system before they returned to university to           styles for the purpose of educational planning
become psychologists. Or she or he may have completed their graduate level training
and gone directly to work in schools.                                                      • have the training to recognize, diagnose, and
                                                                                             intervene with various child and adolescent
Some may have been practicing psychologists who worked in health, mental health,             behaviour and learning disorders
or in private practice prior to being employed by the school system. Regardless of the     • collaborate with students, families, teachers
route they followed, psychologists who work in schools have completed an accredited          and other health care professionals in
graduate program, applied for registration with the Nova Scotia Board of Examiners in        formulating appropriate recommendations,
Psychology, and completed or are completing the requirements to be registered with           plans, and achievable goals for students
the Nova Scotia Board of Examiners in Psychology (NSBEP), as a Psychologist in             • support parents and teachers in the
Nova Scotia.                                                                                 implementation of recommendations and plans
The way psycholoists work can vary from school to school or board to board according       • maintain liaisons with other agencies in the
to policies and practices adopted in each school and/or board. The effect is that what       community when appropriate to ensure
psychologists do in a specific setting appears to be dependent upon what teachers,           comprehensive service delivery to students,
principals, and school board administrators think psychologists should do as well as         parents, and the teachers with whom they
how much independence the psychologist has over how s/he does her/his job.                   collaborate
                                                                                           • develop, consult, and participate in programs
In the public school system, psychologists and the services they deliver are                 designed to respond to crises and emergency
more often managed and/or supervised by staff other than psychologists. (e.g.,               situations in schools
principals, resource teachers, guidance counselors, speech-language pathologists,          • stay current with research related to
etc.) This can pose a number of problems for the practicing school psychologist,             psychology and education, and therefore offer
one of which is that there may be unnecessary limitations or a lack of knowledge             psychological resource and expertise to the
about what they can or cannot do. Psychologists in the schools have a great                  educational system in the development of
deal to offer. According to the Canadian Psychological Association:                          educational policy and procedure as well as
School psychologists provide a wide variety of both educational and mental                   program evaluation
health services to districts, school staff, students, and their families.
                                                                                            Professional Practice Guidelines for School
                                                                                            Psychologists in Canada, CPA
What Does the Future Hold?
Historically, psychological services          for a number of childhood problems,               Psychologists in schools are uniquely
in school have been closely linked to         school psychologists have unique                  positioned to provide primary mental
the delivery of educational services for      expertise regarding issues of learning and        health care. Similar to a primary care
children with special needs. Typically,       schools. It is [school psychologists’]            model, primary mental health care
schools expect psychologists to provide       ethical responsibility to become involved
psycho-educational assessment services,       in programs aimed at problems that are
often to the exclusion of other services      broader than assessing and diagnosing             - prevention and treatment of
they are both competent and prepared          what is wrong with a child. As the most           common mental health issues
to deliver.                                   experienced school professionals in this
                                                                                                - basic emergency mental health
                                              area, school psychologists must become            services
Currently, provincial educators are           invested in addressing social and human
recognizing the need to integrate             ills ... Although [school psychologists]          - referrals to/coordination with
education and health care services for        will not ‘solve’ these ills, [they] must have     other levels of care (such as hospital
children and adolescents. A growing body      a role in ameliorating their impact on the        and community based mental health
of research documents the links between       lives of children.”                               services)
good mental health and the ability to         – Sheridan, S. and Gutkin, T. School Psychology
learn. There is substantial evidence          Review, v29 n4 p485-502 (2000)                    - mental health promotion
to support focusing the delivery of
psychological services in schools to more     The school-based integrated service               - healthy child/adolescent
comprehensively meet the needs of Nova        model is already exemplified in Nova              development -- school based
Scotia’s children, youth, and families.       Scotia by the growing number of Teen
                                                                                                - rehabilitation services
                                              Health Centres housed in public schools.
Canadian epidemiology research over
the past two decades has consistently         Psychologists in the schools are well             - consultation to schools regarding
shown that approximately 18% to 20%           placed and well prepared to work                  student problems, and
of children will qualify for one or more      collaboratively with health care                  - consultation to schools regarding
psychiatric diagnoses during their time       professionals and a variety of community          academic program planning
in school.                                    agencies. Together, they can identify and
                                              support students with mental health
These diagnoses range from learning           needs, and develop prevention and early
disabilities and Attention-Deficit/           intervention programs.
Hyperactivity Disorder (AD/HD) to
depression and conduct disorder. These        However, a significant obstacle to
are mental health issues with major           developing and enhancing the                      The Association of Psychologists of
impacts on a child’s or adolescent’s          collaborative integrated model is a matter        Nova Scotia (APNS) encourages the
behaviour in school and serious impacts       of numbers. According to the Nova                 Nova Scotia Department of Education
on learning. At the same time, learning       Scotia Department of Education, there             to explore and develop innovative,
difficulties can affect a student’s social,   are 138,661 students currently enrolled           integrated school based service
emotional, and behavioural adjustment,        in Nova Scotia Schools. This means that           delivery models to promote mental
and impact negatively on the child’s          the estimated 18% or about 24,959                 health in the school age population,
mental health.                                students who will need psychological
                                                                                                including but not limited to psycho-
                                              support and/or intervention will likely
                                              not be offered these services.
                                                                                                educational assessment. As the
In a primary mental health care model,
the school-based psychologist can
                                                                                                professional organization representing
provide direct provision of first-contact     The lack of capacity to meet the                  psychologists in Nova Scotia, APNS
services and a coordination function to       psychological needs of children and               wishes to extend an offer of support
ensure continuity and ease of movement        adolescents in the schools is due in large        and collaboration to this end.
when longer term or specialized services      part to the fact that the 82 psychologists
are required.                                 employed by school boards across the
                                              province already have a wait list of
“School psychologists are the most highly     students for psycho-educational
trained mental health experts in schools.     assessment and there is rarely time
In addition to knowledge about                available for other services.
prevention, intervention, and evaluation

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