Retaining Support Personnel in Schools

Therapist Retention in Schools

It is a strange fact that there are more police officers in schools than support personnel like school counselors, social workers and speech therapists. The problem is not only recruitment but also retaining support personnel. Schools need to not only recruit but also to retain support personnel.

The following article is from Janet L. Courtney, MS, CCC-SLP, Founder/ CEO, Lighthouse Therapy LLC. Janet is an experienced Speech-Language Pathologist and  has demonstrated in the past 8 years, skills in Autism Spectrum Disorders, Hearing Impairment Disorders, Language Disorders, Articulation Disorders, Customer Service, Pediatrics, and Public Speaking. I am delighted to offer her an opportunity to give her viewpoint on the shortage of speech therapists.

How can schools keep or attract more quality, certified  therapists? What internal changes can reduce high turnover? Lastly, what other options are available to reduce burnout? When recruiting therapists, is it all about the money? The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) asked members to indicate the three most important factors for accepting or staying in a job.  Compensation/pay was in the top three, but flexibility was considered more important.

  1. Flexibility to balance life and work
  2. Compensation/pay
  3. Meaningfulness of job

Job flexibility can look as different from one person to the next.  Having the ability to work part-time, job sharing, the number of assigned locations, caseload size, and student population served are areas to explore to give therapists the desired flexibility.Keeping communication open and options available allows therapy staff to feel more in control of their position.  Knowing their opinion is heard and given consideration goes a long way toward retention because they are given options from year to year. Growth and development opportunities give quality staff a way to reach their full potential.  This may include a therapist interested in a technique or new service delivery model.  It can be mentorship of newer staff members.  Another option could be assistance with school committees in which they can help impact school policy or community interactions.  Giving your therapy staff trust and recognition is also extremely important.

There is a nationwide shortage of therapists . The US Department of Education and the National Center for Education Statistics, 2018, reported that there are an estimated 6.7 million public school students in the United States currently receiving special education services through an IEP. (U.S. Department of Education & National Center for Education Statistics, 2018). With the need for related service professionals going up and the continued shortages, it has become more critical to retain quality therapy staff.  Therapists are having to work with higher caseloads and additional responsibilities. Caseload size matters.  Having large caseloads, the therapists have difficulty collaborating with teachers and parents because they are too busy trying to get to all their students. Then add in transportation time for getting students to the therapy room or drive time between school sites and it becomes a recipe for a quick burn out.

The use of telepractice has been shown to be an effective way to alleviate therapist shortages. By choosing to add a telepractioner to your team, you can alleviate the caseload numbers for on the ground therapists, thus reducing the risk of burnout. Many studies have been done that support the use of telepractice. Nobody should have to experience therapist shortages.  By choosing to add telepractice services you are eliminating shortages and geographical constraints for your district and reducing the risk of losing great therapists.