North Carolina schools are doing the best they can to address growing mental health concerns, but many are falling short of what mental health experts recommend.
School psychologists from around the state, including Bladen County’s one psychologist, recently attended a conference that addressed mental health and school safety. Portions of the conference were spent discussing psychologist staffing among districts. Heather Boling, president of the North Carolina School Psycholgist Association, informed attendees the recommended ratio is one school psychologist for every 500 to 700 students.
Most, if not all, districts, however, miss the mark. Statewide, there is one psychologist for every 2,083 students, a ratio slightly lower than what is seen in the Sandhills region, that of one psychologist for roughly every 2,400 students.
The ratio in Bladen County is one psychologist for the more than 4,000 students.
The issue is only being compounded by increasing numbers. While N.C. public school enrollment has increased from 1.46 million in 2013 to 1.54 million in 2016, the number of psychologists during that same time has decreased from 781 to 740. In the 2016-17 school year, there were 65 school psychologist vacancies across the state and 12 districts without any. By the 2017-18 school year, the vacancies had increased to 75.
“Closing that employment gap needs to be priority number one in addressing the vacancies that exist. Moving towards an improved staffing ratio would be the next target after that,” said Lynn Makor, NC DPI school psychology consultant. “These five training programs (in N.C.) are necessary but not sufficient to put a stop to the 75 vacancies in the state. We need to look to other states and have targeted recruitment efforts.”
At the conference, Deputy Secretary at N.C. Department of Health and Human Services Mark Benton recommended, among other things, increasing the number of school counselors, psychologists, social workers and nurses.
The conference was closely followed by Gov. Roy Cooper’s call for $130 million in funds to protect students and improve safety at schools. As part of the proposed budget, Cooper recommended $40 million for support services like nurses, psychologists, counselors, and social workers and an additional $15 million for youth mental health programs.
“North Carolina’s classrooms must be safe and supportive places for educators to work and children to learn,” said Cooper. “We should address both classroom security and youth mental health needs and my budget takes meaningful steps to prevent school violence and protect teachers and students.”
Chrysta Carroll can be reached at 910-862-4163 or firstname.lastname@example.org.