Mental health support depends on partnerships
In St Paul Education Regional Division No. 1 (SPERD) when a child is suffering from anxiety, bullying, inattentiveness, family difficulties, depression, loneliness, friendship issues, emotional pain, or academic stress, a Family School Liaison Worker (FSLW) is ready to provide support and to teach strategies to make the school experience better. Chair of SPERD, Heather Starosielski explains, “Because we want to take care of the ‘whole child’ these issues must be addressed if students are to ultimately succeed.” As well as supporting students directly in the schools, the FSLW is a link to a variety of community agencies and advocates effectively in support of students and their families.
Over the years, the value of FSLWs in enhancing the student experience has been better recognized by the school board.
Elaine Ziomek, FSLW at Elk Point Elementary since 1992, says, “Originally my position also covered FG Miller Jr/Sr High School and Heinsburg Community School. As the program developed and more funding was available, I became full time at Elk Point Elementary.” Ziomek points out, “Being at only one school I’m able to build stronger connections with students and families, to see students regularly, and to be available whenever a need arises.” Now, every school in the division has an FSLW.
Beyond counselling, an FSLW is a liaison between the school, the home, and medical, legal, and social agencies. In many schools, the FSLW is also the First Nations, Metis, and Inuit (FNMI) contact. Bridget Severin, Division Counseling Coordinator, notes, “These past years we have seen our mandate expanding more and more beyond the 3Rs. Unfortunately our funding is not expanding to cover this wider mandate and we constantly struggle to balance social and educational needs.”
Starosielski acknowledges, “The program is valuable and essential to our students” but explains why SPERD does not carry the total financial load. “The program costs approximately $800,000 annually. However, issues such as family, emotional, and mental health counselling are not within our direct mandate and therefore not supported by Alberta Government educational grants.” So through a cooperative effort, funds for the FSLW program for all the schools in the division are pooled from the County of St. Paul, Town of St. Paul, Town of Two Hills, County of Two Hills, Eastern Edge Regional Collaborative, Town of Elk Point, SPERD, and the Alberta Mental Health Capacity Building project.
As Severin notes, “We as a school division realize the importance of these services and as such have significantly increased the budget targeted for the program. The funding we receive from community partners is absolutely essential for the continuation of this valuable service.”