Ombudsman’s intervention resolves mental health services crisis

Ombudsman’s intervention resolves mental health services crisis

April 13, 2007

13 April 2007

Traumatized children of Ontario soldiers serving in Afghanistan will get the mental health services they need in the wake of the latest investigation by Ombudsman André Marin.

OTTAWA (April 13, 2007) – Traumatized children of Ontario soldiers serving in Afghanistan will get the mental health services they need in the wake of the latest investigation by Ombudsman André Marin. Premier Dalton McGuinty has accepted the Ombudsman’s recommendations that the province ensure funding of such services for children of soldiers based at CFB Petawawa, Mr. Marin announced today.

Mr. Marin’s investigation into what he called a “crisis” situation at Petawawa found that the Phoenix Centre for Children and Families, which provides mental health services in the region, was in dire need of funding and staff to help the community cope with a tenfold increase in cases of war-related anxiety and psychological problems among soldiers’ families. Aiding these children is the province’s responsibility, he said.

“These children are the collateral damage of the war we have asked their parents to fight,” said Mr. Marin. “We can and should be doing more for them.”

The Phoenix Centre’s request last fall for $536,250 over two years was initially turned down by the Ministry of Children and Youth Services, which urged the centre to seek federal government help instead, stating that the children’s problems were the result of a federal military commitment.

The Ombudsman’s investigation confirmed that while health services for military members are a federal responsibility – and while the federal government has a moral obligation to support its troops – the province is solely responsible for mental health services for Ontario children, regardless of their parents’ occupation. The probe also found that children across Ontario are enduring long waits for mental health services, competing for slivers of a small funding pie. “There was no provision for dealing with a crisis situation like Petawawa’s, where 16 members of the community have been killed and 80 wounded in Afghanistan since last summer – and every child of a soldier lives with the fear that his or her parent could be next,” said Mr. Marin. “One mental health professional likened it to a tornado hitting the community several times a week.”

Mr. Marin made three recommendations to the province: That it immediately fund children’s mental health services through the Phoenix Centre, that it ensure long-term support for the children of military personnel in consultation with the federal government, and that it provide the Ombudsman with monthly progress reports.
In response to the Ombudsman’s recommendations, the government immediately announced a $2-million emergency fund to provide children’s mental health support for communities in crisis such as Petawawa, and committed to providing the Phoenix Centre with the budget required to meet military families’ counselling needs. It has also entered into discussions with federal National Defence representatives, and agreed to report back to the Ombudsman. “I will look forward to receiving monthly status reports until the waiting list for treatment at the Phoenix Centre has been eliminated,” Mr. Marin said.

The investigation, launched March 1, was conducted by the Special Ombudsman Response Team (SORT), which interviewed more than 20 key stakeholders, including soldiers’ families, base personnel, and Phoenix Centre staff, as well as officials at the Ministry of Children and Youth Services and at the federal departments of National Defence, Health and Human Resources and Social Development. The team also examined how mental health services are funded for children on military bases in other provinces. Given the urgency of the situation in Petawawa, Mr. Marin said he was pleased to be able to resolve the situation without publishing a formal report.

This announcement marks the completion of more than a dozen SORT investigations since Mr. Marin’s appointment as Ombudsman in April 2005. Previous investigations have sparked, among other things, changes to the province’s municipal property assessment process, improved disease screening of newborn babies, reforms to the Ontario Disability Support Program, Criminal Injuries Compensation Board and out-of-country drug funding procedures, as well as the present overhaul of the lottery system operated by the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation.