This page describes, in general terms, what you can expect when you make a call to a children’s mental health centre (CMHC). 

Your specific experience at any given children’s mental health centre will vary.  All Children’s Mental Health Ontario (CMHO) member centres are accredited. Accreditation is a process that supports high quality services; it helps organizations pursue excellence, improve their performance, and guide their ongoing quality and safety initiatives.  Please note, due to high demand for child and youth mental health services, there may be a period of waiting before your initial appointment. Depending on the particular children’s mental health centre, you may be able to access brief services, such as a walk-in clinic. Also, note that some children’s mental health centres work with a central intake system in their communities.

On this page:

When you call a Children's Mental Health Centre
You can call or walk in, and no OHIP card is necessary to access services. Either the child, youth or family member can call to speak with an intake worker who will talk to them about their concerns. The intake worker will ask questions that help to assess the type and severity of the problem(s).

You may be advised to go to your local hospital if your child is in immediate danger of hurting themselves or others.

The intake worker will identify the right programs and services within the agency that meet the needs of the child, youth and family.  The intake worker may direct you to other community resources if they feel your child’s problem may be better helped through those resources. They may also give you information about walk-in clinics, groups, supports or resources (films, books) that could help. If they don’t, you can ask for this information. Agencies must inform everyone who calls how to get help in a crisis or emergency.

If you are put on a wait list for services, it would be a good idea to update the agency whenever your child or youth’s situation changes.  This new information may result in your child or youth’s priority rating being reviewed. Or you may be able to access brief services in the meantime. You may also call for an update on when your child or youth may start service. Centre’s will also talk to you about other services (e.g. walk in clinics, crisis lines) that you can use for support until service at the Centre begins.

When you go to a Children's Mental Health Centre
Depending on the type of service your child or youth is receiving, initial appointments focus on assessing the problem(s) and needs and aim to help the mental health professional and the child, youth and/or family determine what treatment and support will be most helpful. To figure our what your child needs, the mental health professional or team will use conversations with you and your child, observation, play and/or questionnaires.  The mental health professional will seek your input about the situation and talk with you about previous services, what worked well in the past and seek your input about your child or youth’s needs. The assessment process aims to look at, take into consideration and accommodate your unique circumstances such as your culture, religion, language and ethnicity. With all of this collected information, a treatment plan will be developed and proposed. Clients are always in the driver’s seat during the treatment planning process.

The treatment planning process will try to identify your child’s difficulties and strengths. It is important that there is a discussion of what your goals and responsibilities are; these goals help to measure progress over time. Clients can always ask questions regarding their treatment plans, and the potential risks and benefits.

The mental health professional may connect you with a child psychiatrist.  In many locations across the province, the Ontario Tele-Health Network is used so that the client “visits” the professional using advanced technology.

As part of the treatment process, child and youth mental health professionals may ask for your permission to see school or medical records. They might also want to talk with your child’s teacher or principal or family doctor. This is important. Along with your reports and what your child says, they need to hear about your youth’s behaviour and interactions in in different settings. Then, with this information, they have a complete assessment and can propose the best plan of action for your child and family.

You will have the chance to ask questions and get clarification, and the agency is required to tell you about the risks and benefits of the treatment options under consideration.

You should receive documentation and information if you received an assessment and recommended individualized treatment plan. The agency will then meet with you and discuss a potential plan to help you and your child. You will have the opportunity to have input into the plan that is developed with you. All clients have a right to receive a copy of the assessment and treatment plan.

Clients have an important role in the treatment planning process. Accredited agencies are expected to negotiate and share decision-making with you about the treatment plan, including the goals, timeframes and methods to be used. If your child is over the age of 12 years, they can receive services without your involvement. Agencies encourage youth over 12 to include families or other supports in services but this decision is made by the youth.

What to Expect During Treatment and therapy
Sometimes, treatment may involve the use of therapy, a combination of medication and therapy. Agencies use “evidence-based practices” or, in other words, what has been shown to work. For information on evidence-based practices, click here (coming soon)

Your child may be involved in family, individual or group sessions at an agency or office setting, or services may be provided in your home, your child’s school or another community setting. Medications may be prescribed and monitored by your family doctor or a psychiatrist. A social worker, child and youth counsellor, child and youth worker or psychologist usually provides therapies, and in many situations a team of different professionals will work together with you and your child. If you are unsure who someone is, or what their role is in your child’s treatment, ask them to explain.

In therapy, your child may learn about why they are having problems and how they can deal with them. 

The solutions may involve learning to:

  • Identify situations that can make their symptoms worse
  • Change unhelpful thinking patterns
  • Use healthy problem-solving and coping skills
  • Develop your understanding and experience of different emotions
  • Use more appropriate ways of expressing their feelings
  • Use other new skills that can either prevent symptoms or help your child cope with them.

Therapies or interventions can help your child learn skills that can help them throughout life. Some therapies are backed by research that shows they work, and some are not. You can ask your clinical team what the evidence is for the treatment they are recommending for your child.

A child or youth’s care may benefit from collaboration and consultation between the mental health professional and others, such as teachers, school counsellors, family physicians, and other community services. When everyone is on the same page, it is easier for them to work together to accomplish the goals. There is research that indicates that services work best when they work together with the family, child/youth.

Family involvement
Parents, caregivers and other family members play an important role in the lives of children and youth, and can help and support in the child’s treatment, as they seek to   reach their goals and maintain positive mental health. Ways family might be involved include:

  • Supporting and encouraging your child or youth to participate in treatment
  • Participating in treatment sessions, particularly if your child is young. Older adolescents and teens generally come for their sessions alone. There are times however, that with the youth’s consent, family members would be invited to participate in sessions.
  • Staying at the office if your child is receiving therapy there
  • Helping with “homework assignments” that are designed to practice newly learned skills at home
  • Being open to working through issues within the family if necessary

Referrals to Other Child and Youth Mental Health Services
Depending on how extensive a child or youth’s needs are, the services offered at a given children’s mental health centre and other services available in the community, your child or youth may be referred to:

  • A day-treatment program that combines therapy, school and life-skill building
  • A residential treatment program in a community setting that provides therapy and skill building
  • A hospital in-patient unit where extensive assessment and observation can take place
  • Other community programs that offer specialized mental health support and education to children, youth and their families

Reminders and Other Helpful Facts

  • Clients can always make the decision to accept or change the treatment plan. Clients have the right to decline treatment at any time.
  • Clients always have the right to decide who they want to share this information with Reports will only be shared with other professionals once you have read, understand, and agreed to share them.