Provincial Advocate calls on governments and service providers to “end the tinkering” and improve mental health services for children and youth
Office of the Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth
TORONTO, Ontario (May 4, 2015) – During Children’s Mental Health Week (May 3-9, 2015), Ontario’s Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth is calling on the provincial government and service providers to recommit to children and youth with mental health.
Given its prevalence, mental illness may be the biggest health problem facing Canadian children. One in five Ontario children and youth (approximately 500,000) has a mental health problem, with higher rates for Aboriginal populations. Suicide is the second leading cause of death for youth aged ten to 19 in Canada – the third-highest suicide rate in the industrialized world. For adults with mental illness, 70 per cent report that their illnesses began during childhood or adolescence.
Many government and expert panel reports have emphasized the urgent need to improve the mental health system for children and youth in Ontario. The current arrangement has been characterized as a hodgepodge of uncoordinated services that are fragmented and inconsistent across the province. The Office of the Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth for Ontario hears from parents who describe the intersection of service sectors as “disconnected”, “virtually impossible to navigate” and “full of siloes”.
“Every day my Office hears stories from young people and their parents that reflect a gap between policy and the reality facing people with mental health issues,” says Irwin Elman, Ontario’s Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth.
Many young people are waiting too long for mental health services, when and where they need it. There is considerable variation across the province with respect to the availability of children’s mental health services and there are special access challenges in rural and remote communities. Some individuals have to wait as long as four years for treatment. For the children and youth who are “lucky” enough to receive mental health services, approximately 20 percent are receiving the wrong level of care.
“Different ministries, jurisdictions and sectors talk about improving mental health services for Ontario’s vulnerable children. And yet, too often young people and their families are left with no one to rely on when they reach out for help,” said Elman. “Real change will take more than tinkering with new service navigation systems and frameworks. Real transformation will require an integrated whole-of-government approach to overhaul the system, as well as with a fundamental change in the way government funds and supports service delivery.”
The Advocate’s Office has contributed to the discussion on mental health by making submissions and writing several reports, including a Statement on Child and Youth Mental Health in Ontario, which contains several recommendations for improving mental health services for children and youth in Ontario.
In 2013, the Advocate’s Office led a special consultation with young people in the province who are living with mental health challenges. The report, Putting Youth in the Picture makes it very clear that youth do not divide their lives into silos. These young people see everything from the food they eat to the addictions treatment services they use as contributing to their mental health. This broad spectrum spreads well beyond the usual educational, social and medical services associated with young people, reaching to housing, income maintenance and others not usually considered children’s issues.
The Advocate’s Office endorses the vision for children’s mental health as outlined in the 2011 Ontario’s Comprehensive Mental Health and Addictions Strategy. The ministries of Children and Youth Services, Education, Health and Long-Term Care, and Training, Colleges and Universities are working in partnership to achieve the goals of the strategy, which if implemented, will transform the children’s mental health system in the province. The Advocate’s Office also welcomes increased funding for mental health and addictions services in the 2015 Ontario Provincial Budget, but urges the government to protect funding for children’s mental health and include children and youth in designing and evaluating treatment programs.
“It is essential that we listen to and work with children and youth themselves when creating the services and supports they need,” says Elman. “Young people want to be involved in discussions about mental health and other issues affecting their future.”
About the Office of the Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth
The Office of the Provincial Advocate reports directly to the Legislature and provides an independent voice for children and youth, including children with special needs and First Nations children. The advocates receive and respond to concerns from children, youth and families who are seeking or receiving services under the Child and Family Services Act and the Education Act (Provincial and Demonstration Schools). The Provincial Advocate may identify systemic problems involving children, conduct reviews and provide education and advice on the issue of advocacy and the rights of children. The Office is guided by the principles of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and has a strong commitment to youth involvement.
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