Children, youth and their parents are at the centre of a collaborative initiative bringing together Interior Health, the provincial government, Doctors of BC and community partners that aims to improve access to services and increase supports for young people with mental health and substance use issues.
“Approximately one in seven children and youth will experience significant mental health concerns affecting their interactions at home, school, with peers and in the community,” said Health Minister Terry Lake. “This May 7, take a moment to recognize National Child and Youth Mental Health Day and learn about the help we’re providing to all British Columbians facing the challenge of mental illness.”
Improved communication, access to resources, and care provider education are just some of the changes underway through the work of the Child and Youth Mental Health and Substance Use Collaborative. The initiative is funded by Doctors of BC (formerly BC Medical Association) and the provincial government through the Shared Care Committee, with additional support from the Specialist Services Committee.
“As an ER doctor I’ve witnessed many children, youth and their families in crisis situations,” said Dr. William Cunningham, President of Doctors of BC. “Doctors in our province believe that through partnerships we can make a meaningful difference. That’s why we are providing funding support for this large, evolving and important collaborative. This is part of our commitment to provide quality patient care and to help build a better health care system.”
Since June 2013, the collaborative has held three learning sessions, with another planned for September. About 150 participants take part in each session. These include members of local divisions of family practice (general practitioners), specialist physicians, staff and leaders from health authorities, the Ministries of Health, Education and Children and Family Development, First Nations, RCMP, non-government organizations, youth, families and caregivers.
“The Ministry of Children and Family Development is responsible for setting policy and delivering services for children and youth mental health. We all know, however, that there are many links from these services to the formal health system,” said Minister of Children and Family Development Stephanie Cadieux. “For services to improve, we need all of our partners to work together with us to improve the system – from the children and families’ perspective – while also being aware of the limited resources we have as part of any ministry budget. That’s why I’m pleased that MCFD is a co-lead of this collaborative.”
As their input is integral in guiding system improvements, children, youth and families are actively involved, mainly through the partnership with the FORCE Society for Kids’ Mental Health. The steering committee and local action teams include youth and family members whose personal experiences help guide the work of the collaborative.
“We need you all” was a message from two youth from one of the action teams, and speaks to the essence of the collaborative.
The local action teams are comprised of a variety of professionals such as physicians, school counsellors, social workers and others who work together to improve timely access to care for children and youth and their families. Achievements and goals include:
• Develop local inventories and resource tools to show the mental health and substance use services and supports for children, youth and families.
• Increasing the number of family physicians who have completed the Practice Support Program Child and Youth Mental Health Training Module. Currently almost 600 GPs in B.C. have taken this training since its inception.
• Increasing the number of families accessing the family counselling/coaching program “Strongest Families” and reducing waits to access this program.
• Streamlining access into care for children and youth at highest risk, including targeted timelines for implementation of a treatment plan.
The local action teams are supported by seven province-wide working groups of the collaborative steering committee, working on system barriers to improvements, such as information sharing, recruitment of child and youth psychiatrists, and standardized care for families with youth in crisis.
“Everyone knows there is a lot of work to do. Everybody recognizes how important this work is. Bringing this many people together in one room to share ideas and hear first-hand the experiences of families has been galvanizing,” said Interior Health Board Chair Norman Embree. “We look forward to continuing this work, accomplishing our goals and sharing this work out across the province.”