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Why some people say social workers need to be placed in Yukon schools

Hidden Valley Elementary School in Whitehorse. (Jackie Hong/CBC - image credit)
Hidden Valley Elementary School in Whitehorse. (Jackie Hong/CBC - image credit)

One day this past fall, Beth's child pulled a knife on the school bus.

Nobody was hurt, but kids were scared, and in the aftermath Whitehorse's Hidden Valley Elementary School staff sent out an email reminding parents to ensure their children don't bring "prohibited items" on the bus.

Beth's child struggles with behavioural issues. There have been violent incidents and bullying. Beth asked CBC to withhold her last name to protect her child's privacy.

But she said one thing is clear. Despite the best efforts of teachers and educational assistants, her child needs more help. And that help should come in the form of a social worker.

"They are people who have the best interests of all of the children and can put in support to prevent further things from happening and they're able to facilitate repair," she said.

"What continues to happen at this school is perpetual trauma that just cycles from child to child."

The Yukon's child and youth advocate, Annette King, urged the Yukon government to staff a social worker at Hidden Valley in the wake of sexual abuse at the school. That has never happened.

The department does employ one social worker out of its central office.

In an emailed statement, a spokesperson said the Education Department could not comment on individual cases, though CBC did not ask the department about a specific case. The statement did not say why there hasn't been a social worker employed at Hidden Valley.

The spokesperson said there are various supports available for students in class. And student support services unit "will help families find and access services that are available from other government departments, community-based providers or agencies."

"We do recognize that there is work to do to improve how we're supporting students and delivering timely, effective supports for their learning needs," the statement continued. "The department is currently working with its partners and stakeholders on an initiative called Reimagining Inclusive and Special Education, or RISE."

None of these initiatives, valuable as they may be, are the same as a social worker, said Jordan Aslett, who teaches social work at Yukon University.

"A social worker, as well as doing individual counselling, works with the school to develop sort of connections and systems that work for all students," he said.

"So that includes running groups for specific students. It includes doing sort of community development projects within the school and coordinating with the Department of Education to develop the school as a place not just of learning but of social and emotional growth."