Kids in Crisis – Child & Youth Mental Health in BC

Kids In Crisis Article - Free Stock Photo - Gratisography
Kids In Crisis Article - Free Stock Photo - Gratisography

In the second half of a two-part Abbotsford News series, Tyler Olsen writes about ongoing problems in meeting the needs for child and youth mental health services in BC. He writes that 69% (more than 50,000) of children and youth with mental disorders in BC are not receiving the specialized services they need.

Olson reports that, after a 2008 boost in funding, when “the province was told it had ‘miles to go’ to address mental health issues in children”, provincial funding has not kept up with inflation or the increase in clients requesting services, resulting in a decrease in per-child funding for treatment.

Although the overall number of front-line workers has increased by 2%, from 442 to 453, in the last seven years, there has been a change of balance in front line work staffing allocation since 2008:

  • The number of front-line nurses has dropped from 59 to 42.
  • The number of supervisors has risen by 10 in that time period.
  • The number of front-line psychologists has dropped from 37 to 33.
  • The number of supervising psychologists has increased by 2 in that time period, from 6 to 8.
  • The increase in front-line service workers has been outside of the professional services, in social program officers who provide intake, assessment, diagnosis, treatment and crisis intervention services for children.

Olsen reports that repeated requests from parents, the province’s Representative for Children and Youth, and the BC Select Standing Committee on Children and Youth for improved provision and budget allocation have not resulted in significant improvement.

Olsen writes, “In 2003, the province created a special plan it labeled as a landmark in efforts to address mental health concerns in children. Five years later, a follow-up report called Promises Kept, Miles to Go. … found that while advances had been made, ‘the overall child and youth mental health service system is clearly inadequate in many respects.’ BC’s Representative for Children and Youth, Mary Turpel-Lafond, has repeatedly told the government that the mental health system for children is failing and requires significant improvement.”

The province of BC has a Select Standing Committee on Children and Youth, designed to receive reports from the BC Representative for Children and Youth, who are currently in the second phase of a project examining youth mental health, holding public meetings with service providers and stakeholders. In November 2014, the standing committee delivered an interim report to the legislature stating, “the prevalence of mental health issues among youth is alarming”, “current service levels and delivery models are not meeting growing demands for services,” and that “the committee believes that youth mental health needs to be treated as a high priority by government, and that a concerted effort is required to develop a cohesive and effective mental health system that provides timely, responsive, and seamless services to youth and families. This will require additional resources, enhancements to existing services, and the identification of service delivery models tailored to meet the specific needs of communities across the province.”

Olsen reports that, as part of its work this May, the standing committee was briefed on the New Brunswick delivery system. He writes that Jane Thornthwaite, MLA, Liberal chair of the bi-partisan standing committee, “was intrigued to hear that province had improved services by fostering more co-operation between providers – and that it didn’t require more funding”.

Current MCFD initiatives include:

  • Online tools to help families find information on services
  • A partnership with the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) to deliver “an early intervention telephone-based coaching program to support families”
  • A pilot program in 20 communities to implement a more efficient intake process. Based on evidence that this pilot program has reduced wait times “from days to hours”, it is now planned to roll out the new intake process across the province.
  • Increased grant funding for Families Organized for Recognition and Care (FORCE), a group that works to support families

Government spending on child youth and mental health in BC currently represents 0.2% of the provincial budget. The Waddell report recommended tripling investments in evidence-based treatment systems and prevention programs in order to treat currently diagnosed mental health disorders in children and youth in the province and to reduce the prevalence of these disorders in the future.

Olsen interviewed Karen McLean, Executive Director of the Fraser Valley Child Development Centre (FVCDC), who oversees a team that provides support to children with developmental and behavioural disorders including ADHD and Anxiety Disorder. “McLean believes uncertain economic times have limited government spending, but she warns that underfunding the system isn’t necessarily economically prudent in the long run, citing societal costs that come with dealing with adults with addictions, mental illnesses and learning disabilities.” Olsen reported that MCFD spending on mental health and substance abuse issues has increased by 63% since 2000, with the majority of those services targeted at adults.