November 30, 2016

Children’s Mental Health Ontario (CMHO) agrees with the Office of the Attorney General of Ontario’s (OAGO) 2016 annual report audit which recommends a reduction of wait times, better monitoring by the Ministry of Children and Youth Services (MCYS) and improved funding to Children’s Mental Health Centres in Ontario. But nothing will change unless the Government of Ontario makes children’s mental health a funding and policy priority.

CMHO represents more than 85 accredited community Children’s Mental Health Centres providing specialized child and youth mental health treatment to children, youth, and families, including those with the most serious mental illness. Ontario is not prioritizing children and youth in desperate need of mental health services. Unacceptable wait times of a year or more, in many cases, and insufficient access to mental health professionals who specialize in treating kids has created a crisis.  Investment is needed to meet and improve provincial quality standards and to support the more than 100,000 children and youth in Ontario being treated for mental illness at Children’s Mental Health Centres. This investment is urgently needed to give them and their families a fighting chance–in some cases, just to survive. Too many children die by suicide and too many children and families suffer silently. Years of discussion and planning without sufficient action have not improved services for children & families. Now we must take action. Investing in children and youth mental health is an investment in Ontario’s future. It costs less than $5 per year per Ontarian and saves $145 million in hospital costs. When kids are treated on time, with the right resources, they can grow up mentally healthy.

The response by MCYS to the OAGO’s audit of children’s mental health centres does not address the core issue of a lack of funding to meet the demand and services required. It demonstrates that children’s mental health is not a policy or funding priority for MCYS. The government's strategy for transforming child and youth mental health, Moving on Mental Health, was initiated in 2012; three years was the target for full implementation. A key component of the strategy was the identification of Lead Agencies in 33 service areas across the province, with planning and fund holding responsibility for the service areas. However, in August 2016 MCYS significantly changed the Lead Agency model by removing the fund holding role. And, rather than three years, MCYS now expects it won’t be until 2019/20 for all lead agencies to assume their full responsibilities. It will be necessary to closely monitor developments to ensure that Lead Agencies, in the changed model, are able to effectively lead the much-needed system transformation.

As the OAGO notes and the 2015 and 2016 CMHO Report Cards show, thousands of kids have to wait as much as a year or more for the mental health treatment they need. Some don’t make it to treatment at all. When children wait for mental health services they often fall behind in school, their families suffer and sometimes, sadly, they die by suicide.  Suicide is the second most common cause of death among youth ages 15-19 in Canada. And, Canada’s youth suicide rate is the third highest in the industrialized world.

CMHO agrees with the OAGO recommendations, but also recommends that the government, in partnership with CMHO, Children’s Mental Health Centres, other key stakeholders, and children, youth, and families do the following: 

  • Make children’s mental health a priority in MCYS policy and funding decisions

  • Ensure that children, youth and families receive high quality services at the right time in the right place by
    • Including a maximum wait time for service at child and youth mental health centres of 30 days. In order to treat every child immediately, equally and with the highest quality, we must standardize and improve existing provincial requirements.
    • Extend the hours that current children’s mental health centres operate on evenings and weekends.
    • Hire and train new mental health professionals, including social workers and psychologists, to deliver over 200,000 more hours of psychotherapy to an estimated 10,000 more children including the nearly 12,000 on waiting lists within 18 months.
  • For children and youth suffering with the most severe disorders, immediately scale up innovative programs to decrease the amount of time they need to spend in hospital and improve outcomes.

  • Immediately invest $65 million in the next provincial budget, which would save the province up to $145 million in hospital costs. This is an annual increased cost of $4.65 per Ontarian. And, moving forward, increase annual funding of children and youth mental health centres annually based on the demand and services delivered.