More Mental Health Resources Needed in Schools: Social Workers
Ontario Association of Social Workers Offering Tips for Parents
September 7, 2022, TORONTO, ON — For many Ontario parents, the excitement of the new school year will be accompanied by anxiety as their children grapple with lingering mental health impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Ontario social workers are offering some tips for parents who may be concerned about their children’s return to school this week.
“This year’s return to school is different than any other,” says Deepy Sur, Chief Executive Officer of the Ontario Association of Social Workers. “We’ve been through so much over the past couple years. Repeated school closures along with increased isolation, screen time, and stress related to the virus have had a serious impact on our children’s mental health and well-being. Parents should know that there are resources out there to help.”
Parents can help their children adjust to the return to schools in a number of ways.
- Keep an eye out for changes in your child, particularly around sleep, eating and mood. If you notice these changes, start by asking your child open-ended questions to lead to discussion. If the changes persist, parents should consider getting help from a social worker or mental health professional.
- Ask your child’s teacher or school administrator to meet with you about your child. Connect with the school council and look for opportunities to discuss resources available to address youth mental health such as information nights or education discussions. This is a good time to meet the school social worker.
- Create a strategy to manage your own anxiety as a parent. Children are keenly aware of their parents’ worries, so it’s important to seek support for yourself, whether this be through informal connection with other parents or more formally with the help of your own mental health professional.
School social workers interact daily with young people experiencing mental health concerns. Along with teachers and others in the school system, they work to address issues such as sadness, anxiety, bullying, eating disorders, substance misuse, grief, and life struggles.
For children and youth with mild to moderate issues, school social workers can provide support before these cases become severe. They provide early identification, assessments, interventions and prevention for students and their families. School social workers also facilitate referrals to resources in communities for children in need of more intensive supports than what can be offered in a school setting.
However, their presence is not the same in every part of the province. While two schools may share a social worker in one school board, five schools may share a single social worker in another.
It’s clear the need for support is high. There are 28,000 children and youth on wait lists for mental health treatment in Ontario. One in three parents has had a child miss school due to anxiety, according to School Mental Health Ontario.
“We need more social workers so that they are in every school in the province,” said Sur. “Our children’s mental health is too important, and the needs too great, to ignore.”
Social workers are the largest group of mental health providers in Ontario. They are one of six regulated professions legally authorized to practice psychotherapy and use the title Psychotherapist.