Children’s mental health gets short shrift

In The Observer

Sir: I would like to express my personal gratitude to some very dedicated staff members at Lambton College as well as the administration who took a lead role in hosting a much-needed forum on the state of children’s mental health services in Sarnia- Lambton. As a Social Worker on the front line, I witness the impact on services for our most vulnerable caused by years of underfunding and neglect by successive governments. It was affirming to see so many community members in attendance who share my and my colleagues concerns.

It’s not as though children’s mental health services are asking for excesses during challenging economic times. The fact is, we have not seen an increase in core funding in 14 of the last 17 years. Meanwhile, the costs increase year after year, as does the need.

Did you know that referrals have increased by over 30% at St. Clair Child and Youth Services in the last two years, while at the same time workers are being requested to take voluntary leaves of absence to cover budgetary deficits?

Did you know that Sarnia- Lambton children and youth rate as having more serious mental health issues than other children in Southwestern Ontario?

Yet, there are 30% fewer services for these children, youth and families in Sarnia-Lambton than there were 20 years ago. Unlike our counterparts in, health, education and child welfare, children’s mental health is not a mandated service, and is subsequently treated as a second-class citizen by government.

If we were talking about services for children in need of cancer treatment or some other terrible malady, our community would be up in arms at the gross level of neglect and indifference. Although high-risk children are given priority it’s heartbreaking to have to tell as parent of a child with significant needs to hold on for a few months until we can get to them.

We must not let the stigma of mental health be a barrier any longer. The voices from those in attendance at the forum were loud and clear: Our kids matter and they deserve better. I hope this sentiment has some effect on leaders in our community and the general public to call for fairness in funding children’s mental health. The simple fact is, if we don’t pay now we are most certainly going to pay later. Sadly, the cost cannot always be calculated on a budget line. — Craig McKenzie

Unit Chair St. Clair Child & Youth

Services Vice President

OPSEU Local 145

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