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CANADA

Northwest Territories government aims to put mental health counsellors in schools

The Northwest Territories government is proposing to hire child and youth care counsellors in elementary and high schools across the Northwest Territories starting next school year.

The initiative, a joint effort between the departments of Health and Social Services and Education, Culture and Employment, is still waiting for approval in this year's budget. It comes with a price tag of $1.5 million for the first year.

"It would be really helpful for my classmates to have more resources outside of their own house and in school," said 16-year-old Kleo Skavinski, a Grade 11 student at Diamond Jenness Secondary School in Hay River.

Skavinski was one of about 130 youth the territorial government consulted to develop its Child and Youth Mental Wellness Action Plan.

During those meetings, students specifically asked for more counselling services tailored to their needs.

"I know a lot of students in my school have really high anxiety," said Skavinski. "We can't find mental health workers or help in our community."

Skavinski hopes having counsellors readily available in schools will make it "a lot less scary" for students to seek the help they need.

The plan is to hire 42 counsellors and seven clinical supervisors over the next four years. The Department of Health and Social Services estimates this will cost around $7 million in total.

The child and youth care counsellors would work year-round, and while they would prioritise students, members of the community would also be able to access their services.

The full-time counsellors will focus on N.W.T. schools with more than 75 full-time students. In an email, Health and Social Services spokesperson Damien Healy explained that "the 11 smallest N.W.T. community schools will receive mental-health services through a travelling team of specialized counsellors."

Fraser Oliver, president of the Northwest Territories Teachers' Association, said teachers are "struggling" to help students who suffer from mental-health challenges.

"Most teachers across Canada and in the Northwest Territories aren't professionally trained to deal with mental-health issues."

"It's going to be a win-win ... for the students and the staff," he said.

If approved, counsellors will be brought in across the Dehcho and Tlicho regions in the initiative's first year.

The year after that, the plan is to roll out the program in schools in the Sahtu and Beaufort regions, followed by Yellowknife in year three, and finally the South Slave in year four.

By Gabriela Panza-Beltrandi

12 March 2018 

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