Opposition says P.E.I. government needs to do more to get counsellors into all Island schools

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P.E.I.'s Official Opposition says more needs to be done to get counsellors in all Island schools and to better support them once they're there.

Opposition critic for education and lifelong learning Karla Bernard raised concerns about the lack of counsellors in P.E.I.'s schools during question period Thursday.

Bernard said there are currently 34 Island schools without a full-time counsellor and she's heard from school counsellors who say they are struggling to meet the ever-growing needs of students. She asked the minister of education and lifelong learning why more hasn't been done to get counsellors in all Island schools.

"A couple of school counsellors recently asked me if the minister was aware that one in five Island children have been abused and that a single counsellor in many cases is expected to serve up to 400 students?" she said.

"Are you not aware of these concerns or are you just not doing anything about them."

Legislative Assembly of P.E.I.
Legislative Assembly of P.E.I.

Minister Brad Trivers said student mental health and well-being is a top priority and something the department takes very seriously.

"It really is such an astounding statistic to think that one in five children are victims of trauma and one in five has suffered from abuse," Trivers said.

Trivers said the department has increased supports for students by adding an additional full-time counselling consultant — bringing the total number on P.E.I. to six — who work to support school counsellors across the Island.

According to the department, there are currently 52 full-time counsellors working in the Public Schools Branch and the French Language School Board.

He said some schools also have well-being teams, which serve several schools and include nurses and outreach workers.

Counsellors in every school

Bernard said while student well-being teams are a great complement to the work counsellors do, they cannot replace the work being done by counsellors who are in schools every day.

"School counsellors are telling me that children's lives are at stake and it certainly doesn't look like this government understands," Bernard said.

Kin Linton/CBC
Kin Linton/CBC

She asked Trivers if he would follow through on the commitment he made during the last sitting of the legislature to make student mental health a top priority, by having at least one full-time counsellor in every Island school.

"I am going to keep that commitment," Trivers said. "I believe if all goes well in the very near future we're going to see some really good news on this front."

But, Trivers said one of the challenges the province is facing is finding qualified people to hire.

"There's a huge challenge right now, getting individuals who are qualified counsellors," Trivers said.

He said there are a number people currently working within Island schools as part-time counsellors and part-time teachers and the department is exploring the idea of making some of those staff full-time counsellors.

Bernard said she's growing increasingly frustrated with the situation in Island schools and will continue to bring these concerns to the attention of the minister.

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