There are 2,500 high school students within the division and at the time of the audit in November 2023, there were 12 counsellors covering 13 high schools. Of the students tested in North Battleford, Spiritwood and Unity, roughly 40 per cent of those seeing a counsellor were in Grade 7 and 8.

“Our analysis determined that…counsellor caseloads varied significantly between counsellors,” Clemett said.

During the audit, it was discovered that one counsellor was responsible for 820 students across three schools and according to the auditor, the American School Counsellor Association recommends a ratio of 250 students per health care professional. A separate 2018 Ontario survey, meanwhile, recommended a ratio of about 400 students to one.

A statement to battlefordsNOW from LSKYSD said they received the recommendations in mid-April and began working on several changes soon after.

“We do want to caution that some of the data in the report requires context. For example, the number of students for which one counsellor is responsible was mentioned,” the statement read.

“This figure refers to the total number of students in the schools she supports. Only a percentage of these students will ever require counselling, and an even smaller percentage would require the frequency of counselling necessary to address intensive mental health concerns.”

The auditor’s seven recommendations include: a formal process to record mental health emergencies, counsellors must finish their risk assessments and plans, follow student referrals made to outside organizations and health authorities, and report important information such as critical information and caseloads.

“Without formally analyzing counsellor caseloads, Living Sky is unable to assess whether it provides appropriate resources to support students with significant mental health concerns and make decisions to address any gaps in delivery,” Clemett said.

One of the major issues highlighted was the lack of suicide risk assessments not being completed and safety plans not being documented.

“You always want documentation to support what was – almost that level of risk associated with – once you’ve done your counselling with the student that has come forward, you think you’re at risk of suicide, the other thing is establishing that safety plan,” Clemett said during a question period following the release of the auditor’s report.

The school division said in the statement that they were “happy to see that the auditor noted we have many effective processes in place, except in a few areas, and we will continue to work on those to ensure we are giving students the best support we can.”

They said they had reviewed the recommendations with their team, outside agencies, and administrators for transparency.

“Living Sky recognizes the important role schools play in providing support for the mental well-being of our students. For this reason, mental health is part of two strategic priorities for the division, and there is a requirement for all schools to set goals around them.”

Clemett said there is an expectation that best practices should be followed so when a student is moving forward in their counselling plans, mental health staff “have the ability to go back and reflect on what was done, what was obtained in terms of information and are appropriate actions being taken,” she said.

“The one that I think will take a little bit longer — require the support of the ministry – is the one around the information… with the key outside agencies but, the other recommendations we made, I would want to see immediately or for sure in the next upcoming school year that Living Sky starts implementing them and we will probably go back in two or three years’ time.”

To review the report, among other auditor reports, click here.

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