The following is a presentation given to Standing Committee on Finance and Economic Affairs during January 2019 in Chatham-Kent to MPPs looking for public input on the 2019 budget. Chatham-Kent Children's Services is a CMHO member agency.
My name is Teri Thomas-Vanos and I am the Executive Director at Chatham-Kent Children's Services. We are an integrated children's services agency providing child welfare, children's mental health, youth justice and developmental services to children ranging in age from birth to 18 years and their families. This unique model positions us well to offer a range of supports and resources in one centralized location.
I want to share with you the realities facing so many of the kids that our agency sees on a daily basis. Kids and families in Ontario are waiting way too long for mental health help. ln Chatham, as a result of some innovative thinking and unique partnerships, we are able to offer assessment and counselling services within a timely manner. We have a relationship with a local hospital, Chatham-Kent Health Alliance, where we have staff working out of their Emergency Department who are able to assess and direct young people right to community based mental health services at our agency or admission to inpatient psychiatric care, if warranted. The challenge is that the funds are eroding and as a result so is this responsive service. Our referral rate for ongoing counselling is currently 3 months on average.
Where we need to improve and are ready to respond, with the investment in mental health services promised by the government, is in the area of local, intensive mental health services. These are the supports that are needed by kids and families who are dealing with the more intensive and complex mental health problems.
Due to a lack of financial resources, intensive services are not available locally. Presently youth with complex needs are relocated to Windsor or other out of community placements for a period of time, away from family and social networks that are inherent to their recovery and ongoing wellbeing.
When children and youth fail to get the help they need, the results are devastating - and can even be fatal: suicide is the leading cause of death after accidents for children and youth in Canada. Kids and families in Chatham-Kent are in crisis.
Families express that they feel unsupported during times of crisis and often resort to hospitals for mental health services. Not only is this bad for kids and their families, it's costing us an extra $220 million a year in hospital spending. On top of that, we know parents report disruptions in their work and personal responsibilities when they are caring for an unwell child. lmagine the added burden of having to wait months for treatment, and then to have your child placed in a facility away from home, when everyone is feeling so vulnerable.
We have a comprehensive, holistic, child focused and family engaged day treatment program ready to go here in Chatham. lt would save money, and be better for the whole family. lmplementing Children's Mental Health Ontario's plan for $150 million in new investments in community child and youth mental health would allow us to reduce our 3 month wait list for counselling and therapy, and launch this intensive day treatment model right here in Chatham- Kent. Additionally, an increase in the age of care up to 25, as called for by CMHO, would allow many youth to resolve their presenting concerns without the need to transition to the adult mental health sector.
We have a unique opportunity - and responsibility - in the 2019 Budget to make life tangibly better for infants, children, youth and families across Ontario and end the crisis in child and youth mental health. We look forward to working together with government to make smart investments that will help Ontario kids with mental health issues go on to have great lives.