Principal appeals for more mental health workers

  • Aug. 5, 2015 7:00 p.m.

By Stacey MarpleHaida Gwaii ObserverA staffing gap in Haida Gwaii’s Child and Youth Mental Health Services has one local educator worried the situation has reached a crisis point. Verena Gibbs, principal for Port Clements Elementary and acting principal for Tahayghen Elementary, has written a letter to the Ministry of Child and Family Development (MCFD) urging them to fill the vacancy after the last worker resigned last month due to heavy workload-approximately 40 cases. According to Ms. Gibbs, that translates into a system in which only the most at-risk students are supported. “Despite collaboration among outside agencies, we are unable to meet the mental health needs of our children,” Ms. Gibbs explains in a letter to the Ministry of Children and Family. Whenever possible, youth are seen by outside agencies such as the outreach worker at Haida Gwaii Society for Community Peace. But in order to provide an appropriate level of mental health support, access to resources need to be consistent and stable, Ms. Gibbs told the Observer. “I am pleading with the Ministry of Children and Family to consider assigning two Child and Youth mental health workers as soon as possible.”Ms. Gibbs is prohibited from commenting on the specifics of the workload, but adds “based on my observations, the need on-island, particularly the north end, exceeds the amount of support available.”There are currently five front-line mental health workers and one team leader serving children, youth and families in the Prince Rupert/ Haida Gwaii service area, but Ms. Gibbs says that historically, only one was assigned to service all of Haida Gwaii. Now there are none.The MCFD says it is in the process of recruiting a replacement worker for the area. When there has not been a full time worker in place, the MCFD have provided temporary staff to meet the needs on-island. Ms. Gibbs explained that inconsistency of care (predominantly locum doctors) and slow turn-around rates for new hires makes services on Haida Gwaii more complex in general. MCFD has expanded the use of tele-mental health services in the north to connect children and youth to psychiatrists in Vancouver. This has shortened wait times for families who might otherwise have to travel or wait for a psychiatrist to visit their community.  “The Ministry is continuing to promote the use of tele-mental health in rural and remote areas of the province, like Haida Gwaii, as a means to provide faster, more efficient services for children, youth and families who needs them,” Heidi Zilkie, spokesperson for MCFD said.”Educators and child-care workers on-island do everything they can to meet the health care needs of our children, but the current services are far from adequate,” Ms. Gibbs concludes in her letter to the Ministry.

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