Government offers funds for youth mental health

Announcement comes on the heels of recent roundtables

Human Services Minister Manmeet Bhullar announced on February 3 that the provincial government is committing $5 million to improve mental health services for Alberta’s youth. The news came less than a week after the government’s two-day public roundtable focusing on the well-being of children in government care.

Those roundtable discussions were partially inspired by media revelations in late 2013 that the deaths of hundreds of children who had been in government care at some point in their lives had not been made public. The focus of the January 28 and 29 forums turned to preventing deaths by improving mental health support for children and families involved with Alberta’s child protection services.

In addition to $5 million the government says it will establish “best practice” mental health centres in Calgary Red Deer and Edmonton; provide child intervention services staff with “instant access to expert clinical-medical consultation”; improve access to mental health services for youth and families; and work on a child and youth mental health action plan.

“This announcement is an initial step in our promise to address root causes and will put more mental health supports where they are needed” Bhullar said during a press conference at Calgary’s Hull Services.

“Making sure that Alberta children… are supported is critical to the future health of our province. By investing in their mental health we are building a healthier more productive and more rewarding future for these children” Health Minister Fred Horne added in a press release.

However many of the needs namely increased mental health supports for children and youth in government care had been identified prior to the government’s recent reactionary roundtables.

Provincial child and youth advocate Del Graff has repeatedly drawn attention to a desperate need within Child Intervention Services for better mental health services.

“I’m not sure what motivated government to act now” says Graff. “Last year in our annual report we identified three actions that we thought should be taken with respect to mental health. The announcement is in line with those actions I recommended so in that regard I’m very pleased.”

Pamela Smith is the adoptive mother of a 16-year-old girl who spent her early years in foster care. Smith’s daughter also suffers serious mental health problems. Smith was so frustrated with navigating the “labyrinthine” mental health system to obtain services for her daughter that in spring of 2013 she sent a series of letters to Horne and other government officials begging for help and condemning their failure to properly address the issues Horne now insists are so critical to the province’s future.

“I didn’t know anything about these new changes nobody consulted me” Smith said upon hearing about the government’s new commitment to youth mental health.