A psychologist working in Northland schools says children who are missing out on the help they need because of a lack of resources could develop more serious problems.
Kaitaia-based Ministry of Education psychologist Geoffrey Marchant and learning support specialists who are NZEI union members have voted on whether to strike over pay and working conditions and the result is expected today.
Specialists provide support to the increasing number of children with the highest learning needs in schools and ECE centres.
Marchant has worked as a psychologist for 20 years and has spent 10 years as a ministry psychologist. He said there are 11 other ministry psychologists in Te Tai Tokerau but more learning support specialists are needed in the region as children are missing out.
"The consequence of not providing support is that young people are going on to more serious psychological problems - perhaps criminality, poor health and wider negative societal impact -there's really no financial merit in limiting the socially appropriate support that students might require," he said.
Marchant said he works in 11 schools in the Far North and has 45 active cases - some of those he attends in more of an advice and guidance role, about 15 to 20 cases are more demanding. Those numbers have "significantly" grown over the years.
"There's an increasing need and this is due to a general population increase, the disillusion of wider family support for children, a lot younger parents, some gang culture, neo-liberal policies that have tended to increase inequality and a wider range of deprivation across some sections of the community - all this is creating a need for extra support for many students."
He sees a range of children including those with autism spectrum disorder, foetal alcohol syndrome, Down syndrome, learning difficulties, and those who have suffered abuse.
"It's about ensuring a young person can achieve an appropriate level of independence given their issues, and they need support to do that. Otherwise it's not cost effective."
The ministry has offered a 2 per cent pay increase on the day of ratification and a further 2 per cent on September 1, 2019.
Marchant said learning support workers need better pay to attract people to the job, and more resources. He said the top-range salary for Ministry of Education psychologists was around $80,000 per year and it started in the high $40,000s.
"Our relativity to the median wage has reduced hugely and when individuals think about what their career might be and they're going to go to university for seven years, that's a big factor in determining where they go.
"I've been 20 years a psychologist, only 10 years with the ministry. Prior to that I was a consulting psychologist working privately. The hourly rate was significantly higher than what the ministry pays."