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Education department hasn’t started recruiting wellness counsellors promised for every Yukon school

Minister told the legislature that each school will have wellness counsellor by upcoming school year
Gym equipment seen at Selkirk Elementary School on Oct. 20, 2022. The Yukon’s Education department hasn’t started recruiting for wellness counsellors that the Education minister said will be in every school. (Dana Hatherly/Yukon News)

Recruitment has not begun for wellness counsellors that the Yukon’s Education minister has promised, according to the territorial department.

In response to questions raised by Scott Kent, Yukon Party MLA for Copperbelt South and education critic, Education Minister Jeanie McLean told the Yukon Legislative Assembly March 20 that every school in the territory will have wellness counsellors when students head to classrooms in the upcoming school year.

“Yes, of course, we are targeting to have them in place by the upcoming school year, in 2023-24,” McLean said.

“If there is any way to have new positions that may be identified by school communities in place prior to that, I will certainly endeavour to have that happen.”

Having a wellness counsellor or similar position in every school is a commitment in the confidence and supply agreement, commonly known as CASA, between the Yukon Liberal Party and NDP caucuses.

“The department aims to establish a robust mental health and wellness approach of which dedicated mental wellness counsellors in schools are an important part,” communications analyst Zara Soukoroff said by email.

“The work to put wellness counsellors or similar positions in place is underway although we are not yet at the recruitment phase.”

CASA also stipulates the government will “allocate an additional $1 million in each of the next three budgets to enhance recruitment and retention of new rural education professionals across the Yukon.”

Soukoroff said that, as of June 1, there are a few dozen other job postings to be filled in the city and in communities for the 2023/24 school year.

Twenty-two teacher positions need to be filled, including 16 in Whitehorse and six in communities, Soukoroff said. Additionally, vacancies remain for six learning assistance teachers, three Yukon First Nations language teachers, three principals, four vice principals and 12 education assistants.

Per the email, the department cites difficulties with teacher recruitment across Canada for the past several years. In 2023, the department began posting positions earlier to be more competitive with other jurisdictions. The department’s recruiters have attended 13 in-person education career fairs in the Yukon and five provinces, and six online job fairs.

“We work with school councils and the Yukon Association of Education Professionals, who participate in the hiring process depending on the position, to fill roles throughout the year,” reads the email.

On Aug. 17, 2022, Nicole Morgan, then-deputy minister of Education, said during a briefing for reporters on COVID-19 in schools that non-enrolling staff with specialized roles may be pulled in to make up for teacher absences. Soukoroff said the department does not have data on how many staff in non-enrolled or specialized positions were put into teaching roles to make up for teacher absences throughout the school year that ended in June.

In a June 27 interview, NDP leader Kate White said she had hoped a wellness counsellor focused on mental health would be in place for each school by the fall.

“It’s concerning,” she said of recruitment not yet beginning to fill the positions and highlighting the importance of mental health resources for the territory’s students.

She noted that while the positions were negotiated into CASA, the NDP doesn’t get to implement the way the provisions of the agreement are implemented. She would like to see the Liberal government view this as a priority.

McLean provided a written statement on the situation, arguing that having wellness counsellors in place at schools throughout the territory is a high priority.

“We are targeting to have them in place by the upcoming school year,” she said. “That work continues and we remain committed to the target.

“We intend to have a flexible and adaptive set of criteria to qualify wellness counsellors, tailored to each unique school community’s needs. This could include, for example, an elder.

“Our government continues to take action on recruitment in education, posting positions earlier in the year and attending many online as well as in-person career fairs.”

Work continues with school administration to get ready for the 2023/24 school year to begin.

- With files from Stephanie Waddell

Contact Dana Hatherly at

Dana Hatherly

About the Author: Dana Hatherly

I’m the legislative reporter for the Yukon News.
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