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Budget must put money into children’s mental health: OPSEU

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Windsor – With wait lists for treatment exceeding one year for young people with behavioural and mental health issues, the next Ontario budget must include more funding to prevent a grave problem from becoming a full-blown crisis, a legislative committee heard today.

Philip Shearer, an Executive Board Member for the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU), told a pre-budget consultation in Windsor that more than 9,000 children and youth in Ontario are on waiting lists for long-term psychotherapy.

“This is unacceptable,” Shearer told the Standing Committee on Finance and Economic Affairs, which is travelling the province in the lead-up to next spring’s budget. “As a society which claims to care for all – and which has the financial resources to provide care for all – we should be ashamed of this profound neglect.”

Wait lists for treatment are growing in all regions of the province due to a dramatic decrease in the number of available beds, said Shearer. In 2006, there were 24,800 licensed residential beds in Ontario. Today, that number stands at about 16,100 – a 35 per cent decline. The result has meant children and young people coping with mental health problems are flooding hospital emergency rooms and in-hospital admissions – both of which are ill-prepared to handle the sharp increase.

Citing figures from the Canadian Institute for Health Information, Shearer said a strategic investment of $65 million in community-based children’s mental health centres would reduce wait times and ensure that young people receive timely access to treatment. By doing so, the province could save as much as $145 million in hospital costs, he added.

“Let’s stop saying there is no funding available,” Shearer told committee members. “Children are our most precious asset and if we can’t treat them today we are only putting off spending until tomorrow, when worsening conditions will put even greater pressure on the system.”

OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas, who will speak to the committee on January 18, said funding is available; the problem rests with the government’s priorities.

“We’ve got the money. Let’s not look any further than the Auditor General’s report which said the government is burning through cash on public-private partnerships (P3s) like there is no tomorrow.”

To read the speaker's notes click here

For more information:  Philip Shearer, 519-494-7301