School districts struggle to fill mental health positions

By: | August 27, 2018

The school psychologist shortage rages on, with one federal study predicting deficits of more than 10,000 full-time psychologists by 2025. But districts have been exploring nontraditional options to provide comprehensive care to all students.

“The shortages are significant and severe, to the point where we’re in somewhat of a potential crisis” says Eric Rossen, director of professional development and standards at the National Association of School Psychologists.

“As we learn more about all of the barriers to learning that students face, it’s not only imperative but mandatory to have school psychologists if we want our students to thrive.”

The association recommends a student-to-school psychologist ratio of 1,000-to-1 for the general population. For psychologists providing comprehensive and preventative services, such as counseling, behavioral interventions and crisis response, the ratio should not exceed 500 to 700 students per psychologist.

SIDEBAR: Recruitment and retention strategies

The issue is complex and multifaceted, and the cause often varies district by district, Rossen says. For example, some districts have the funding for a position but lack applicants, while others do not have the budget to hire anyone.

Creative staffing in North Carolina

In 2014, Cabarrus County Schools in North Carolina faced an all-time low of five psychologists for its 30,000-plus students. Today, 19 are on staff, but low salaries compared with neighboring states make it a struggle to hire more, says District Psychological Services Coordinator Amy Lowder.

To fill the gaps, the psychology team partnered with other specialized instructional support personnel in the district—such as guidance counselors, social workers, nurses and school resource officers—to address student mental health needs. This has broken down silos and provided more combined funding for mental health, according to Lowder.

“Whenever you have these teams working together effectively, it does improve student academic, behavioral and social-emotional outcomes” Lowder says.