Salk Prairie, Wisconsin (WMTV) – As the school year begins, many Wisconsin schools continue to face an uphill battle to address mental health issues amid staff shortages and increased demand for care. increase.
The Sauk Prairie School District has been fortunate to have a full staff of school counselors, psychologists and social workers this year, but officials say there are “always more staff available” and will need to ensure adequate resources. We are always looking for new ways to Students, faculty and staff, as well as their families.
“We know there are also many children and adults who need mental health care but are on a waiting list for six months or longer. is very difficult, especially in rural areas of the state, and we are no different,” said Jeff Wright, superintendent of the Sauk Prairie School District.
That’s why the Sauk Prairie Board of Education recently approved a new online service called CareSolace, which provides free individual and group therapy to families in the district.
Wright said several large school districts across the state have already seen success using the service, and he expects to see good results in Sauk Prairie as well. “Knowing that we can’t do everything under this roof, I’m excited to give students that opportunity,” he said.
Mindy Breunig, a counselor at Sauk Prairie Middle School, said mental health efforts need to be community efforts. “Our teachers, administrators, custodians, and lunchers—we want everyone in the building to watch over the children and work with them,” she explains Breunig.
This new semester marks my 20th year in teaching. She knows that addressing her students’ mental health concerns is an ever-evolving challenge, but gaining her students’ trust is always her first hurdle. “Students won’t come to you if they don’t feel comfortable. It becomes very important to be visible from the start and establish those relationships,” she said.
Not all Wisconsin school districts can go back to school confident in their mental health resources.
According to data from the Wisconsin Department of Public Education, one in five students face a mental health problem, and its website states, “More than 80% of incidents remain untreated. About 75% of people do it in school.”
This is due to a national decline in the number of mental health professionals working in schools.
“We feel a shortage of them. We often hear from principals, superintendents, and special education officers asking how they can find a psychologist in their school. If there is no school social worker. , how do we provide these supports and services?” said Tim Peerenboom, School Psychology Consultant at Wisconsin DPI.
As of late August, WECAN (Wisconsin Educational Career Access Network) showed the following number of job openings in schools statewide: 37 social worker jobs, 45 psychologist jobs, and 56 counselor jobs. work.
With so many unfilled vacancies, Peerenboom explained that many school districts have an overwhelming student-to-mental health staff ratio. “When mental health professionals cannot devote themselves to providing the services we are trained and experienced in, students lose out, they lose access to those services, and professionals burn out.” Wisconsin Julie Insitty, School Social Work Consultant for State DPI, explains:
DPI has competitive grants that school districts can apply to help fund these positions, but Incitti says the overall support from the state is needed to truly solve the problem. I said I was always short of things. “I also think school leaders could advocate at the state level for more funding for mental health professionals in schools. However, it is intended only for school social workers, and the DPI is looking to increase that to include school counselors and school psychologists as well.
But when it comes to recruiting and educating the next generation of school-based mental health professionals, Dr. Katie Eklund of UW Madison’s Department of Educational Psychology has a more positive outlook.
“Actually, a record number of applicants! Last year, over 150 graduate students applied to our PhD and EdS degree programs in school psychology. We want to host more students than we can,” Eklund said in a statement emailed to NBC15.
Dr Eklund added that the number of educators in this field is also strong. “Faculty numbers have not decreased. In fact, there are more faculty positions available (and accepted) now than there were ten years ago. are being implemented.”
Dr. Eklund explained that UW students prepare for future careers through school psychology training clinics that support schools.
“Our graduate students work as apprentices and interns with school psychologists at local schools. Together, they provide children and young people with individual and small group mental health support as well as , provides school-wide social-emotional learning, trauma-informed care, and in-school crisis response services.
When asked for her opinion on how to address the current shortage of mental health personnel in schools, Dr. Eklund suggested: to the Teacher Pledge Program offered by the UW-Madison School of Education for teaching applicants).
She also argued that school districts could “increase salaries for schools that employ mental health professionals so that local schools can better meet the needs of children.”
This sentiment is shared by DPI officials, Peerenboom said: As a school psychologist and social worker, you go to many schools and are graduate-level professionals, and many school districts don’t have the funds to support a full-time person.”
In the short term, to recruit and retain quality mental health professionals in schools, DPI recommends school districts:
– Create a positive work culture that incorporates staff appreciation.
・Support the work-life balance of the staff.
– Take more breaks in spaces where staff can calm down.
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