Written by Kim Moran. CEO of Children's Mental Health Ontario.
I was privileged to meet with parents in Thunder Bay on Thursday night at The Children’s Centre, to talk about the gaps in mental health services for children, youth and families. During the discussion, one parent said that she saw a noticeable reduction in services over the last 15 years and that “kids are dying…and the Ontario government is doing nothing about it.” Last spring, some of the parents met with the Ontario Minister of Child and Youth Services, MPP Michael Coteau. During this meeting, Coteau had said that he would champion children’s mental health in Queen’s Park, but these parents have not seen any action. They worry that the Ontario government doesn’t care about them and their kids because they have not provided funding to reduce wait times.
I have met with senior leaders within the provincial government, and they do say that children’s mental health is a priority, but it’s clear that real improvements to the system aren’t happening. In fact, funding for children’s mental health services has fallen by over 50% in the last 25 years. The province must increase investment significantly for child and youth mental health treatment.
These Thunder Bay parents spoke passionately about the need for additional funding for mental health services. Kids are waiting far too long, sometimes 8 to 12 months, for life-saving counselling or therapy. There is no intensive treatment available at all in Thunder Bay, and far too often, kids are sent south for treatment. They also talked about the need for services to extend past age 18. Once kids and families form a strong relationship with a clinician, they don’t want to be turned away at 18 and forced into the adult system. It just doesn’t make sense. All the recent research has shown that the age for youth mental health treatment should be increased to 25.
These parents and I know firsthand how challenging it is to parent kids with mental health issues and how hard it is when you can’t get the services you need as soon as you need it. We talked about how many times we had been to the emergency room because the community services weren’t there when our children needed them. And that’s not right. None of us want to go to hospitals – we need ongoing therapy and counseling for our kids. Hospitals only stabilize kids and then send them home where they still wait for treatment. It’s a revolving door.
The solutions are simple, Children’s Centre Thunder Bay has strong programs that support kids and families, but they need funding to reduce wait times and to expand intensive treatment programs. For the Ontario government, that’s a win/win. Investments in child and youth mental health services will reduce hospital overcrowding, costs and get kids timely access to treatment – treatment that can save lives.
At the end of this meeting I asked these parents to send a letter to Premier Wynne as part of an advocacy campaign being pushed by CMHO to increase funding to child and youth mental health in Ontario. I will encourage each one of you readers to take just one minute of your time and do the same.
Visit www.kidsmentalhealthcantwait.ca to tell Premier Wynne that kids can’t wait.