Require regulation for school psychologists
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ON March 7, the Free Press story Legislation seeks to expand health minister’s regulatory powers discussed Bill 17, proposed legislation to extend the minister’s powers related to the colleges and associations not yet governed under the Regulated Health Professions Act.
However, the Manitoba Association of School Psychologists (MASP) has been officially notified by the director of the legislative unit for Manitoba Health that the situation regarding psychologists working in schools, who are not professionally regulated, will remain unchanged.
What a missed opportunity. How many more decades will go by before psychologists in schools are appropriately regulated?
For almost 40 years, the MASP has sought professional regulation for its members. Several provincial governments, both NDP and Conservative, have acknowledged it’s not ideal for school psychologists to be making diagnoses of complex childhood disorders and treating them without professional oversight; however, no one has attempted to untangle the mess that’s been created by having two government ministries (health and education) responsible for groups of psychologists doing substantially the same work.
By statute, Manitoba Health has authority for regulating professions that deliver health services to the public. Manitoba Education is responsible for the education of children. In the 1960s, Manitoba Education struck a deal with Manitoba Health to exempt psychologists working in schools from being regulated under the Registered Psychologists Act.
Exemption clause 11(2) removes the safeguards provided by the oversight of a professional regulatory body.
This exemption was necessary 30 or 40 years ago, since there were many minimally qualified people in those roles, tasked mainly with testing and program placement.
Today, school psychologists are expected to have specific core competencies, to further develop and maintain their skills to do a broad range of tasks, which may include risk assessments for violence or suicide, and diagnostic assessment and treatment of mental disorders such as autism, anxiety, depression, attention deficit disorder and learning disorders.
These greater responsibilities bring with them the potential for a higher risk to the public than in years gone by. Consequently, exempting school psychologists from professional oversight no longer makes sense.
In Manitoba, the training of future school psychologists takes place in the psychology department at the University of Manitoba, and not in the faculty of education, because school psychologists are not teachers.
For many years, school psychologists have been certified by Manitoba Education to work in Manitoba schools, as are speech language pathologists and social workers.
This ensures people delivering clinical services in schools have a basic minimum of education and skills to be doing this sensitive work with children and families.
However, the certification process does not, nor can it, provide full professional oversight and thus falls far short of ensuring the safe, effective delivery of clinical services.
For instance, the certification process has no ongoing quality assurance component to ensure clinicians are maintaining and updating their professional skills and competencies. Certification offers no meaningful disciplinary process for ethical violations. We are forced to rely on an individual’s professional integrity.
These deficiencies in the certification process have been recognized and ameliorated for the other school-based clinical disciplines (occupational therapy, speech and language, social work) by requiring those clinicians to be registered and regulated by their discipline-specific professional bodies.
This is not the case for school psychologists, who have been effectively barred from mandatory professional regulation by both the longstanding “exemption clause” and by Manitoba Education’s reluctance to lose exclusive control of this group of clinicians.
Unfortunately, this does the profession no favours nor the public, which deserves proper oversight of psychological services provided to vulnerable children and families.
So, what is the solution? The ministers of both education and health need to agree that school psychology is a health profession and shall be included under the Regulated Health Professions Act by the new regulation for psychologists currently being developed.
School psychologists will still need to be certified by Manitoba Education; however, with mandatory membership in the professional regulatory body for psychology, the public and the profession will both be better protected.
Eric Alper has provided psychological services to school communities for over 40 years, is a past president of MASP, and current chair of the MASP issues committee. Dawn Hanson has been a school psychologist for over 35 years and is the current past president on the MASP Board.