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Future school mental health positions could draw from an existing workforce

Smyrna Middle School
Smyrna School District
Smyrna Middle School

Dozens of new mental health counselor and social worker positions will open in Delaware’s elementary and middle schools over the next three years – positions educators say may have a workforce ready to fill them.

Last month, Delaware’s General Assembly passed the latest in a series of bills intended to expand mental health care access for students; the most recent one requires at least one mental health counselor or social worker per every 250 students within three years.

Delaware State Education Association legislative director Kristin Dwyer says the positions created can offer better-paid careers or better working conditions to people with social work certifications who struggled to find work in their fields.

“We knew these people are working as contracted employees for other agencies or community groups, but they’re working well below what a masters-level professional salary should be," she said. "If they want to come and make an educator’s salary and get educator benefits, they will come.”

She notes that others with social work certifications opted to become teachers when they couldn’t find work in their original specialization.

But some positions created by the bill – namely school psychologists, one of whom will be needed for every 750 students – may be harder to fill. Dwyer says in the absence of positions in that specialized field, few students have pursued the certification.

And Delaware’s educator compensation still struggles to compete with neighboring states – a challenge that has also spurred lawmakers to reconsider pay scales for educators in the coming year.

Paul Kiefer comes to Delaware from Seattle, where he covered policing, prisons and public safety for the local news site PubliCola.