As the school year welcomes students back to the classroom, a new list is available with tools that could help kids and teens throughout the year.
Last semester, local parent and counsellor Nicole Thomson put together a list of community resources and Squamish-based counselors who specialize with school-age kids and teens.
She said she was inspired by her own family’s experiences trying to navigate mental health help. Thomson said her kid's school year was difficult last year, and she was paired with a school counsellor. The weekly meetings, however, started petering off, Thomson said.
“I myself am a counsellor and I just didn't realize how different it was in the school system,” Thomson said, adding the situation is "really kind of impossible. I would never take more than 20 people a week… Just the position the school counsellors are in, I really was feeling for them.”
Thomson said she wasn’t the only parent confused about options, and she heard from other parents who were not sure where to find help. Thomson said it took a lot of legwork to figure out.
“Just being a parent is so overwhelming. I can barely even keep up with how many dance emails I got last year. I can't also be an expert in finding resources,” she said.
So she decided to go to the school district, where she met with the director of learning services, Phillip Clarke.
From there, Thomson found out school counsellors never supposed to be the main support for kids, and can refer to other sources of help. She took it upon herself to make an easy-to-use list.
“It just seemed like making a list of local resources to be all in one place…would be a really easy gap to fill,” Thomson said.
Her list includes free resources and phone numbers as well as the private, paid counsellors who work in Squamish. It says what ages the counsellors work with and the areas they specialize in, without making specific recommendations. All of the counsellors included are Registered Clinical Counsellors, who have met the requirements of the BC Association of Clinical Counsellors.
Every year and multiple times throughout the year, Clarke said the school district compiles a list of outside agencies and community resources and send it to parents.
"This, on top of that, will help. Sometimes parents or kiddos want to know if it's counselling services what's available to them or who's out there. Sometimes that's even really helpful for work placements,” Clarke said. “There's multiple ways just having an overall list of community resources just helps everybody make informed choices.”
Every school in the district has a counsellor, whether full-time or part-time, Clarke said. In elementary schools, he said counsellors are there to help with social and emotional regulation, helping kids navigate incidents or situations like loss of a loved one or parents' divorce. They help teach sexual health and orientation.
What school-based counsellors don't do is therapeutic counseling.
“I just think sometimes people feel like they need a little bit more support or a little bit more help or information. It's like we approach coaching when we want our kids to excel in certain sports. Sometimes we need to tap on counsellors to get just a little bit more, sometimes the parents have help navigating certain situations,” Clarke said.
He added there are parent support groups, such as the FORCE Society, that are available for guardians to find advice.
“We're not all experts on every aspect of children, adolescents and even adults. Knowing that there are experts or that there's help available when we need it is reassuring and it can be really valuable for all the members of our community,” he said.
While the schools will decide how to make the information available, Clarke said they want to make sure they're not telling everyone they need to see a counsellor, or seem to be prioritizing a particular private counsellor over others. Clarke said anytime parents have questions about their child's social and emotional support, they should connect with their teacher, school counsellor or principal.
In the future, Thomson said she'd like to expand the list to include resources in the whole school district, but for now the list is Squamish-based.
The resource list is available online at www.squamishcounselling.ca/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/Squamish-Kid-Youth-Mental-Health-2019.pdf