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Donation a ‘game-changer’ for Ottawa child and youth mental health
A $1.5-million donation from the Royal Bank Foundation is being called a game-changer in creating an innovative system that will make it easier for children and youth in the Ottawa region to get access to the right mental health and addictions services.
The planned program, expected to launch in the spring, comes as children’s health officials are warning of a “pandemic after the pandemic” involving mental illness.
“We are expecting increased demand for mental health services,” said Alex Munter, president and chief executive officer of CHEO. “Almost everyone’s level of anxiety is higher today than it was in March and there is a lot of pressure on young people.”
The children’s hospital, along with 20 other providers of mental health and addictions services for children and youth, as well as families and youth, are part of the Kids Come First health team that is launching the integrated program.
The $1.5-million donation will help with startup costs and technology to create a so-called “one call/one click” system that would allow children and youth and their families to more easily navigate the mental health and addictions treatment system and get matched with the right program, said child and mental health officials at a virtual press conference.
Joanne Lowe, executive director of the Youth Services Bureau and vice-president of mental health and addictions at CHEO, said children and teens are waiting too long for mental health and addiction services, in some cases because it is difficult to navigate the system.
“When this happens, children and youth repeatedly visit emergency departments or access services that might not be the right fit. This can lead to poor outcomes.”
The Royal Bank Foundation donation — which is the largest ever for child and youth mental health services in Eastern Ottawa — will expedite the system.
Munter said the program will help connect children with the services they need, but those mental health services need a “significant investment” from the provincial government as well.
Long wait times and insufficient programs have long been a feature of mental health services for children and youth in Ontario. Many expect pressure on the system to increase.
Provincial Health Minister Christine Elliott said she hopes to see the innovative one call/one click program emulated across the province once it gets off the ground in Eastern Ontario.
The program will offer a single number to call or one online link to click, walk-in clinics, direct booking, coordinated care planning and peer and family support services.
“We all want kids to flourish,” said Elyse Schipper, executive director of Parents’ Lifeline, who is a member of the one call/one touch team.
“As it is now, there are just too many barriers to them having that chance to flourish. It does not need to be this way and we know it.”
She said it is “thrilling” to be part of a group that is “changing the way we take care of kids and families.”