Children's mental health: Tough times require investment strategy, not false

TORONTO, April 30 /CNW/ - As citizens across the province prepare to mark Children's Mental Health Week (May 2 to 8), Child Development Institute, a Toronto children's mental health organization providing services for children ages 0-16, calls on the Ontario government to invest our public resources wisely, on targeted, proven strategies.

Public spending on child and youth mental health has been frozen for three years in a row, resulting in program cutbacks affecting thousands of children and families. Almost one in five children in Ontario has a diagnosable mental health disorder, but only one in four of those receives effective treatment. Average wait times for children seeking mental health services are far longer than those for most physical health services.

"The economic slowdown and soaring deficits that we've seen recently are sobering," says CDI Executive Director Tony Diniz. "Everyone understands the need for belt-tightening. But let's not rely on false economies. Child and youth mental health treatment works. Let's invest wisely in the programs that show demonstrable results."

Child Development Institute is a leader in evidence-based children's mental health programs. It has a 100-year service record in Toronto. Two decades ago - ahead of most others in the field - it began gathering data and undertook regular evaluation of treatment outcomes. That research has led to some very targeted and innovative strategies - and the evidence demonstrates this approach works.

Take CDI's unique Girls Connection program, for example. In the early 1990s, the evidence showed that girls enrolled in CDI's co-ed antiviolence program weren't improving, although the boys were. Emerging research at the time revealed that girls were violent for different reasons than boys. So, in 1996, the Girls Connection program was started, drawing on techniques proven to work for boys, but also addressing underlying aggression issues more common for girls, such as malicious gossip and name-calling. Fifteen years later, the gender-specific approach, which has adapted CDI's internationally-acclaimed SNAP(R) (Stop Now and Plan) model for young girls, is widely recognized and replicated - including by the Ontario government. Ironically, though, the province has not yet seen fit to invest in this proven, targeted strategy. "The Girls Connection addresses a pressing social issue - increasing girl violence - and we've shown the results, so we'll continue it. But it's tough to sustain a program on fundraising dollars alone," says Diniz. "We are hopeful that the government will one day look at this program on its merits."

Investing in research and evaluation is essential to ensure that taxpayers are getting a good return on investment. According to Children's Mental Health Ontario, the umbrella organization for children's mental health service agencies in the province, two-thirds of those treated in Ontario's community-based agencies show clinically meaningful improvement, and one-half are entirely free of significant symptoms at the end of treatment.

CDI's Dr. Leena Augimeri wanted to know that the kids with the most severe behaviour problems and conduct disorders - kids under 12 with a history of stealing, bullying, assault and vandalism, and who are often referred by police - were showing the same meaningful improvements. Ten years ago, she started the Centre for Children Committing Offences at CDI, to concentrate on research of childhood aggression and conduct disorders. "Finding money for research is tough," Dr. Augimeri says, "but it's a critical part of the process. We want to make sure we don't do more harm than good, we want to prove it works and we want it to be cost-effective."

Research has been invaluable in honing CDI's programs to deliver results. "We now know that there is typically a seven-year incubation period between a child's first delinquent behaviour and his first police contact," says Augimeri. "First criminal offences for young offenders peak at age 14, which means the trouble starts as early as age 7. We've responded by providing services developed and proven effective for this age group. It's a targeted strategy that helps keep kids out of the juvenile justice system." And it makes financial sense. It costs the system about $100,000 a year to keep one youth in a secure facility. It costs less than $5,000 to put him through a three-month program and provide additional help, such as tutoring and family counseling, as needed.

"We all have different ideas on how best to invest our public dollars," says Tony Diniz. "But surely we can all agree that this is a small cost that pays huge benefits and even saves money in the long run. Let's be smart, and strategic - and avoid a tragedy for the children who need our help."

Child Development Institute has more than ten locations in Toronto, providing programs for early learning, children's mental health intervention, and services for children who have suffered family violence and sexual abuse. CDI serves more than 4,000 children each year in Toronto and its award-winning model programs are replicated across Canada and internationally. CDI's research is leading new approaches to children's development and well-being. For additional information, please visit


For further information: For further information: Media contact: Nancy Bennett, Director of Development & Communications,, (416) 603-1827 x 2276, cell (416) 435-7918

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