Since the pandemic, mental health referrals and hospitalizations for youth have hugely increased, yet the BC NDP only provide our schools with 1 counsellor for every 693 students. At a time when we need to invest in our children’s mental health, we’re letting them down.
Today in Question Period, I asked when the government will hire enough counsellors to meet the needs of all students in BC. In her response, Minister Rachna Singh called the issue “complex” and fired shots at the BC Liberals while offering no promise of change.
While the BC NDP say the right words on mental healthcare, the reality is that outcomes are getting worse for children’s mental health. In 2021/22, mental health challenges were the most common reason for the hospitalization of Canadians aged between 5 and 17.
According to the BC Teacher’s Federation, the student to counsellor ratio doesn’t align with research evidence that recommends 1 counsellor for every 250 students. BC School Counsellors Association President, Dave Mackenzie said of the 1:693 ratio, “these 20-year-old ratios are a travesty and deserve attention from the Ministry.”
The evidence is clear: healthy kids make healthy adults. Tackling these issues early on prevents long-term illness, substance use disorders and helps put children on a path to lifelong wellness. The BC NDP must step up and ensure all youth can access timely mental health supports.
Our public schools have a ratio of one counsellor for every 693 students. That means when a child needs help, it’s often not available to them.
During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, research in Canada shows increases in mental health referrals and hospitalizations, as well as high rates of anxiety, self-harm, substance use and suicidal ideation. It was those who were already most vulnerable that suffered most.
Many students report having limited to no access to mental health support at school. There just aren’t enough counsellors to meet the needs of students. The ratio of counsellors to students in the teachers’ collective agreement is one counsellor to every 700 students. It’s been that way for 20 years.
The president of the B.C. School Counsellors Association, Dave MacKenzie, said: “When you consider how schools, society and the conversations about mental health have changed, 20-year-old ratios are a travesty and deserve the attention from the Minister of Education.”
My question is to the Minister of Education. When will this government meet the needs of students and hire enough school counsellors to cover the students’ needs in this province?
Hon. R. Singh:
I really appreciate the member’s concern. I share similar concerns about the mental well-being of our children.
As a government, we make it our priority. Since 2017, we have hired nearly 300 teacher-psychologists and counsellors across the province. We know how important mental health and well-being is. It also helps in their learning as well.
Along with that, we are working across the ministry, whether it is the Minister of Mental Health and Addictions or with the Minister of Children and Family Development.
We have are also trying to break the stigma around the issue of mental health. We have the integrated child and youth teams, which we are operating right now in five school districts, and we have just announced that that will be extended to seven more districts across the province.
It is a very complex issue, no doubt, and I really agree with the member opposite — especially the challenges that we have faced in the last few years — how this issue has even aggravated. We take it as a priority, and recently, just this week, my colleague from Mental Health and Addictions was in Squamish and opened a Foundry, which we know is also a very key resource for our youth and our children. We will continue to invest in the resources that are much needed.
Third Party House Leader, supplemental.
Our children need the support at school. It’s where they spend many hours of their day through their youth growing up. And oftentimes the accessibility of a school counsellor or psychologist will mean whether or not the child gets the kind of support that they need immediately or whether or not the problem continues to grow.
We know healthy kids and healthy lives when you’re a youth make healthy adults. Catching mental health care needs early prevents lifelong illness, potential substance use disorders and helps put children on a path to lifelong wellness.
We need to be investing in our children’s mental health. We appreciate that the minister’s added 300 new counsellors and psychologists, but everything that I’m hearing from our school system is that it’s still far from enough.
So I’ll ask the question to the Minister of Education. Will the minister change the ratios so that there are enough counsellors and psychologists to meet the needs of our students?
Hon. R. Singh:
I really appreciate the question. As I mentioned, it is our priority. We know how important the mental health and the well-being of our children is. And, as a government, we are investing in our education system and especially working with the most vulnerable, most marginalized youth and students in our schools. Since 2017, we have made it a priority, and we will continue to do that.
We know we have done a lot since 2017, but also we have been filling the gaps. We know the gaps that were left out by the previous government. We are trying to fill those gaps. We know a lot has been done, and we are committed to work even harder for this.