A report from the BC Representative for Children and Youth says many aboriginal youth wait an average of 270 days for mental health support.
Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond published A Tragedy in Waiting today, examining a First Nations teen who fell through the cracks in the lead up to his suicide in 2013.
The report tells the story of 16 year old Chester, who was described as “sweet and easy to like”. Despite displaying signs of serious mental health issues, Chester received very little in the way of help.
“Causing young people who we know are needy to wait this period of time is tantamount to abandoning children in crises and it’s unacceptable and needs to be responded to appropriately by building really meaningful services for these children.”
Chester lived on a reserve near a major centre in BC, where services ought to be accessible. Turpel-Lafond acknowledges there are acute problems with mental health services in more rural and remote parts of the province, but says wait lists of this length are the norm across BC.
She says the province has to step up to the plate and “open the doors” for these youth by funding the system.
The provinces own select standing committee on children and youth declared no youth should wait more than 30 days to get into the system, “and we are far off from that” Turpel-Lafond noted.
“Young people do not get the support that they need and the most common experience they have is to wait, and aboriginal kids appear, despite everything we know about the challenges they and their families may have, they appear to wait longer than anyone.”
In the case of Chester, who was left to “wander the halls” while the local School District struggled and failed to find services for him – Turpel-Lafond recommends increased support for school districts who are often forced to send students to sometimes unstable home without support.
She adds that the fragmented approach to delivery of First Nations health care seems to be compounding the problem, creating a system of “snakes and ladders”
Turpel-Lafond voices concern about ideas of handing over the delivery of mental health services to the First Nations themselves.
“Because if you are going to take jurisdiction over what is essentially a system of waiting with no services, you are effectively going to be taking authority and the little bit of money that goes with it and you are going to be inheriting a very big problem which is most of these kids are not receiving any service now.”
The report recommends the Ministry of Children and Family Development develop and implement a strategy to provide collaborative support for Aboriginal Agencies that are “consistently failing to meet ministry performance standards”
In a statement Minister of Children and Family Development Stephanie Cadieux claims positive changes have taken place since Chester’s death “However, even with these improvements, it’s still not enough. We’ve heard from individuals and families that we can still do better in making the mental-health system easier to navigate.”
Cadieux says the Ministry will review the recommendations in “the context of the ministry’s multi-year plan”