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School psychologists seek consistent opportunities and full scope of practice

By Kathleen Cherry, school psychologist, Sooke

BC’s school psychologists, many of whom are BCTF members, are coping with the stressors that have become an inherent part of BC’s education landscape: staff shortages and underfunding being two of the most impactful.

In addition, BC’s school psychologists are also experiencing regulatory changes. These may bring long-term benefits but are also causing short-term stress and increased workload for school psychologists.

The new regulatory framework involves shifting the licensing and registration of school psychologists in BC. Currently, BC’s school psychologists are certified through the BC Association of School Psychologists (BCASP). However, the province’s Ministry of Health, in collaboration with the Ministry of Education and Child Care, has announced that BC’s school psychologists must be registrants of the College of Psychologists of BC (CPBC) by May 1, 2024, to continue their current role.

The CPBC explains on its website that the change is not meant to alter psychology services within the school system but to align existing services provided by school psychologists with the requirements and expectations of other professionals regulated under the Health Professions Act.

The shift has long been considered by government and is part of an ongoing effort to streamline the number of bodies regulating health care professions. The BC Association of School Psychologists (BCASP) is supportive of the change, recognizing that it will heighten the visibility of the profession, clarify professional identity, and promote a greater under-standing of the role among all education stakeholders.

An expedited process to apply for CPBC membership has been developed for BCASP-certified members, but this is not as simple or time effective as might have been hoped. BCASP-certified applicants must pass the written jurisprudence exam, attend a workshop, and submit three references and two criminal record checks.

Additional costs involved in this process may also be borne by individual school psychologists. While the annual CPBC fees ($1,200) will be covered by the employer, the reimbursement of the approximately $800 for the application process (application fee, written jurisprudence exams, and criminal record checks) remain uncertain.

Some districts have indicated a willingness to cover these costs. However, in a February 15, 2023, statement, the BC Public School Employers’ Association (BCPSEA) made it clear that districts have no legal obligation to do so.

On behalf of school psychologist members, Clint Johnston, BCTF President, responded to BCPSEA and urged the province to fund an employer payment for these fees, adding that the severe shortage of school psychologists within the province makes this step particularly important.

The confusion created by the lack of consistency for employment situations...negatively affects the recruitment and retention of school psychologists."

Indeed, the scarcity of school psychologists has been recognized by the BCTF for several years. In January 2021, the BCTF Representative Assembly passed a motion that the BCTF investigate the working conditions and recruitment and retention issues for school psychologists.

One of the issues affecting the recruitment and retention of school psychologists, and consequently the school psychologist shortage, is the veritable hodgepodge of employment situations and renumeration packages that exists across the province. Some are BCTF members, some are exempt staff, while others belong to the Canadian Allied Professionals Union. Some districts offer stipends or have identified the school psychology role as a position of special responsibility, while others do not. The confusion created by the lack of consistency for employment situations makes movement between districts difficult and negatively affects the recruitment and retention of school psychologists.

The limited number of training programs is another identified concern related to the shortage of school psychologists. At present, the UBC School and Applied Child Psychology (SACP) program is the only school psychology program in BC. However, its faculty state that the lack of school psychology programs within BC is not the sole issue, as the province is also failing to recruit or retain a number of SACP graduates.

In a letter dated March 8, 2023, Dr. Laurie Ford wrote to the Ministry of Education and Child Care, the Ministry of Health, and the College of Psychologists of BC, on behalf of the UBC faculty of the SACP program. In this, she noted that the primary concern was the continued limitations in the scope of practice placed on school psychologists.

Dr. Ford explained that the current, continued emphasis on the assessment and diagnosis of specific learning disorder and intellectual disability is not an accurate reflection of the depth and breadth of training received by school psychologists in 2023 and is inconsistent with the practice recommended by the profession and professional organizations in school psychology. (1)

Dr. Ford noted that students within the UBC cohort are looking outside of BC to find their internship positions and, eventual, full-time employment, in part, so they can engage in more diverse practice reflective of their training. This limitation in scope also serves to decrease access to much-needed mental health services for children and youth in BC.

A grassroots advocacy group of BC school psychologists seconds this concern and states that the current system is failing to capitalize on school psychologists’ broad skill set, which would allow for greater individual, class-wide, school-wide, and systems-level supports.

"...the current system is failing to capitalize on school psychologists' broad skill set, which would allow for greater individual, class-wide, school-wide, and systems-level supports."

A part of the challenge for school psychologists is that they are a small group poised between several large provincial systems: CPBC, schools/districts, BCTF, and the Ministries of health and education. (2) Many are both certified teachers and licensed school psychologists, educators, and mental health professionals. This brings with it both inherent risks and benefits.

The downside is that these large groups may fail to recognize, respect, and hear this cross section of knowledge. While belonging to many factions, the voices of school psychologists may never be large enough to be properly heard in any one group.

On the flip side, there is the ongoing hope that new changes within the regulatory framework will be the beginning of thoughtful, respectful, systemic improvements.

When schools are supported with the full breadth of services a school psychologist can provide, students can experience greater success and access to health services, while teachers are supported as they work with students who have learning challenges or need mental health services.

School psychologists who are BCTF members are hoping that, although small in number, their collective voice will reach the bargaining table when it comes time to again bargain for our collective working and learning conditions. More equity in working conditions and renumeration across the province can support the recruitment and retention of school psychologists, lessen individual burnout, and improve BC’s public education system for all staff and students.

Tune in to the BCASP Podcast for inquiry and professional learning

Staying up to date with current research and best practice across two disciplines is no easy task. School psychologists must log at least 30 hours of continuing education per year. A portion of these hours must be in approved formal programs (e.g., conferences) and members must ensure that they get hours in specific areas, including ethics, Indigenous cultural safety, self-care, self-study, and structured interactive activities.

The BC Association of School Psychologists (BCASP) has a long-standing tradition of hosting a fantastic conference, providing members with a great way to earn a portion of these continuing education hours. This November will mark the organization’s 35th conference and BCASP is eager to welcome participants as well as national and international experts.

More recently, Vancouver School District school psychologist James Tanliao and I have embarked on an informal project: co-hosting the BCASP Podcast. Episodes last the length of a typical commute and provide the listener with a sampling of topics, including links to allow for a deeper dive.

In its inaugural year, episodes addressed literacy, with researchers Jan Hasbrouck, Nancy Young, and UNBC faculty member and school psychologist Melanie Baerg. Other topics addressed included the migration experiences of newcomer youth, the underdiagnosis of autism spectrum disorder in certain populations, and ways to support wellness among Indigenous youth.

This year we promise to keep the conversation going. The first episode of the school year was released October 10 and featured Dr. Liz Angoff discussing her approach to support children in better understanding their brains.

Future releases plan to highlight math instruction, report writing, executive functioning, and ethics. We are excited by the project and always welcome feedback or suggestions.

Search for “BCASP Podcast” on Spotify, Google Podcasts, and Apple Podcasts.


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