Toronto schools are proposing staff cuts that would see fewer youth workers and counsellors to support students next school year.

One week after a survey found Ontario students are struggling to access mental health support, a Toronto District School Board (TDSB) report shows its budget for next year accounts for 485 fewer positions for school-based staff. Yvonne, an itinerant child and youth counsellor at the TDSB who asked to be identified by her first name, said she fears she may lose her job.

“It’s pretty upsetting,” Yvonne said. “Our work is valued and it’s making a serious impact on what is happening in our classrooms.”

In the report, TDSB said Ontario’s education ministry granted Toronto schools funding for the school-based staff positions in 2021. The funding was renewed in 2022 but is set to expire in August.

Right now, the board employs 390 child and youth workers and 65 child and youth counsellors, according to Solange Scott, president of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation Professional Student Services Personnel bargaining unit for Toronto.

The planned cuts include 35 special education support staff and 35 child and youth workers. Scott said some of these workers were hired under the impression their jobs would be permanent.

“I’m angry. ​​I’m hurt,” Scott said. “I was on the phone with a member today who got hired as a permanent child and youth counsellor… If they accept the permanent position, then they’re going to be out of a job in June.”

Toronto schools’ child and youth workers already have caseloads of up to 100 students, according to Scott. Yvonne said her team was already stretched thin.

“Most of us are already working diligently across the board every day to meet the needs of all the students,” Yvonne said. “Still, it sometimes feels like there’s not enough of us.”

Yvonne said fewer child and youth counsellors and workers means each student will wait longer for counselling and mental health support. That means each student gets less regular counselling.

“We want to come in and talk to young people and we want to support them throughout the process,” Yvonne said. “We don’t just want to be coming in to intervene when things have gone terrible.”

In an email to Canada’s National Observer, a spokesperson for the TDSB said its budget is still under consultation and the board has not made any final decisions about staffing for next year. In its report, TDSB said it “continues to advocate to the Ministry of Education to provide adequate and sustainable funding to support student achievement and well-being.”

The ministry did not reply in time to meet the deadline for this story.

Yvonne said she hopes the board continues to centre students when making financial decisions.

“Every student at the TDSB deserves to have school-based mental health support when they need it,” Yvonne said. “Right now, because students are under so much stress, our team is doing everything in our power to meet all of their needs, but there certainly needs to be more of us to really appropriately help.”

By Isaac Nay, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Mar 06, 2023

This item reprinted with permission from   Canada's National Observer   Ottawa, Ontario
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