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This is the final installment of a seven week series examining the topic of child and youth mental health in B.C. As this is a complex and multifaceted topic, I will be narrowing my focus to a few popular beliefs and areas of concern that I have witnessed in my role as MLA. The purpose of this series is to debunk these beliefs, increase awareness of these concerns, end the stigma of mental health in our society and provide opportunities for you to impact what is happening in your community.

“Considering that the well-being of our most vulnerable children and youth is at stake, I expect more from government and I think most British Columbians do as well” – Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, Representative for Children and Youth

Popular Belief Eight: The government is addressing the issue

Reality: While some progress has been made to promote and address issues relating to mental health, British Columbia has a long way to go. If we are to truly improve our child and youth mental health profile here in B.C. we need strong government leadership to guide us there. Something we are lacking in this province today.

A decade ago B.C. and the Ministry of Children and Family Development (MCFD) were seen as a Canadian leader in child and youth mental health services. This was thanks in large part to the 2003 Child and Youth Mental Health Plan – the first of its kind in Canada – which included strategies focused on providing treatment and support, reducing risk, building community capacity and improving performance. Even though the plan did not deliver as significantly as was hoped in all areas, a 2008 internal evaluation did find notable progress had been made in the area of preventative measures.

While the five-year plan arguably needed some tweaking, it was certainly a step in the right direction. Despite this, the plan was replaced in 2010 with the government’s new ten-year plan to address mental health and substance use in British Columbia, entitled Healthy Minds, Healthy People.

Though this new plan does respond to some of the concerns that have been raised around child and youth mental health services in B.C., it falls short of improving upon the 2003 plan. Not only is it not specific to children and youth – instead taking a lifespan approach with strategies for supporting children, youth, adults and seniors – it also does not contain any operational details of how the plan might be implemented. Nor does it specifically address any of the shortfalls found by the internal review of the 2003 plan. Thus leaving B.C. without a clear and measurable guide for providing substantive support to youth and their families.

Representative for Children and Youth

In 2006, B.C. appointed Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond as its first Representative for Children and Youth. The Representative is an independent expert oversight body tasked with supporting children, youth and families who need help in dealing with the child-serving system.

Between the years of 2008 and 2013 the Representative’s office made a total of 148 recommendations to the provincial government to improve the lives of B.C’s most vulnerable children. While 72% of these recommendations have been acted upon, a number of the most important ones remain unfulfilled – including her recommendation for government to create a Minister of State of Youth Mental Health.

During this same five-year time period, MCFD’s budget was reduced by more than $37 million – this amounts to nearly $100 million when inflation is accounted for. While the current state of our mental health system is not solely a budget-shortage problem, it certainly plays a role. As the report points out “it is difficult to improve services on a shrinking budget.”

Furthermore, the fact that MCFD’s budget has shrunk despite the mounting evidence that our youth mental health system is in serious need of a redesign, shows just how misguided our approach thus far has been.

Where do we go from here?

Instead of cutting MCFD’s funding, we should be investing more in a Ministry that is mandated with providing crucial services to one of our most vulnerable populations. 

Instead of disregarding key recommendations made by an office dedicated to protecting children and youth in B.C., we should be working with the Representative for Children and Youth to ensure our mental health system is providing current, best-practice services for all levels of care.  

We need to understand that by investing in these services now, we lessen the need for more acute and expensive services in the future. And that by supporting the mental health of our children today, we are giving them the tools they need to support themselves tomorrow. 

It is time for the B.C. government to recommit to the mental health and well-being of our young people and to once again become a leader in child and youth mental health services. 

Weekly Action Item

I have always said that if you don’t like the way your government is addressing an issue – or not addressing one – then you need to get involved, you need to express your concerns and make your voice heard. In fact, that is precisely why I ran for office in the first place.

So this week, for our final action item, I am asking you to vote. I strongly believe that one of the most powerful tools we have at our disposal is our power to vote. With the Federal Election just around the corner and the next Provincial Election less than two years away now is the time to let your politicians know that issues surrounding Mental Health and Mental Illness are of top priority to you as a voter.

When you are contacted by campaigners, ask what their party is doing to address these concerns. Research your local candidates to find out their policies around child and youth mental health. Encourage your friends and relatives to do the same. And most importantly, when election day arrives get out and vote.

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