2020 has been a roller coaster for all Utahns! Though there is deep division surrounding politics and COVID precautions, one thing that unites Utahns is the love of family and care for our children and youth.
Our children’s education, health and well-being have been a longstanding priority for parents and educators. The mental health and emotional well-being of our children have had increased awareness and focus in the past decade, but they have been thrust into the spotlight during 2020, and for good reason.
COVID-19 has had an impact on all of us, young and old, but it has caused significant disruption to our students’ lives. It has changed the manner in which they are educated, disrupted social norms and caused continual uncertainty regarding many day-to-day home and school life routines.
Parents and educators have recognized the increased need for social-emotional learning and access to mental health supports in the school setting. Most students in our state receive their mental health support in school settings, as opposed to private clinics. One professional that is critical to providing these services is the school psychologist. But don’t confuse this professional with the school counselor or school social worker. True, all three of these professions are highly trained and needed in the school setting — now more than ever! However, when parents, educators, school boards and even our elected officials think of the professionals in the school setting, their minds and language often go solely to the school counselor, likely due to that profession’s increased visibility.
The Utah Association of School Psychologists (UASP) and the Utah Association of School Counselors (USCA) have paired together over the past few years to encourage professional collaboration given this growing need of students in Utah.
Some Utah school districts employ a school psychologist full time at each school, while others have one part-time psychologist per school, and others are spread thin with one professional serving upwards of eight or 10 schools. In Utah, we have approximately 340 licensed school psychologists. With the state’s high population of students, this means our current ratio of school psychologists to students is one to every 2,300. The national recommendation from the National Association of School Psychologists is one to every 500 to 700 students. As you can see, Utah’s ratio is significantly misaligned with the recommended ratio and is a barrier to easing accessibility for students who need the services of a school psychologist.
Appropriately, Nov. 9-13 is National School Psychology Week. Over the next few days, Utah’s school psychologists will celebrate this year’s theme: “The Power of Possibility.” The word “possibility” implies hope, growth, resilience and renewal. Possibility also suggests that even something as small as a seed can grow into something magnificent. The word “power” implies that things can and will happen. When we focus on what is possible, we have hope that students will grow, thrive and bloom. Given the overwhelming emotions surrounding COVID-19, now more than ever is a great time for students, families and educators to pause to ponder the power of your possibility.
School psychologists’ training and services are vital to our students’ success and well-being here in Utah. However, with such dire ratios, access to these services can vary greatly from district to district. Following is a list of the services a school psychologist can provide:
Directing support and interventions to students individually or in groups.
Consulting with teachers, families and other school-employed mental health professionals (i.e., school counselors and social workers) to improve support strategies.
Working with school administrators to improve schoolwide practices and policies.
Collaborating with community providers to coordinate needed service.
Completing psychoeducational evaluations and interpreting assessments that guide student educational needs.
Keeping students safe by responding to and preventing crises (e.g., suicide prevention).
Utah students deserve access to a school psychologist’s support. Educators deserve the expertise and assistance of a school psychologist on their teams. And parents deserve the opportunity to have this resource in their community. However, without the advocating voice of parents, appropriate access may not be available to all students.
Please take a few minutes this month to find out who the school psychologist is in your child’s school. Reach out to your school administrators, school boards and legislators to advocate for access to these services for the children of Utah. Even if you happen to think that this is not a current need for your family, advocate for the potential needs of your family, friends and the children in your neighborhood.