Sheldon Kennedy urges Alberta to remove barriers to helping kids in crisis

A high-profile advocate for youngsters in distress says the key to helping people with mental illness is to give caregivers the means to help each other.

EDMONTON — A high-profile advocate for youngsters in distress says the key to helping people with mental illness is to give caregivers the means to help each other.

“Police are doing this work in their silo. And (the) Health (Department) is doing this work in their silo. And Child and Family (Services) is doing this work in their silo,” Sheldon Kennedy said Thursday.

“To me, it’s about leadership and how do we make the tweaks that we need to make and commit to integrated practice.

“Where there’s a will there’s a way.”

Kennedy, a former NHL player who was sexually abused by his junior hockey coach, made the comments Thursday after meeting with Alberta’s mental-health review committee.

He said he is seeing results of the integrated approach to care in his work with abuse survivors at the Sheldon Kennedy Child Advocacy Centre in Calgary.

“Every case that comes in — whether it’s (from) the police, Children’s Hospital, Child and Family (Services) — gets triaged amongst every one of them every day,” he said.

“Hence the reason we can make the best decisions for the child and family.”

The changes have a real benefit, with wait times for therapy cut to one month from eight, he said.

Liberal Leader David Swann, who is a committee member and a medical doctor, said people need to get help before dysfunctional situations spiral into violence.

“Because … we’re not integrated enough and communicating well enough, we don’t get into these families and into these communities early enough, so we’re dealing with all kinds of problems way downstream,” said Swann.

There needs to be changes in attitude and in legislation, he suggested.

“We’re not empowered … in the health system to share information with the school system and vice versa,” he noted.

“(And) some professionals are operating under the assumption that they can’t share information when they can share relevant information that would improve the care of this child or this family.”

Health Minister Sarah Hoffman, asked about the possibility of legislative changes, said: “I’m open to receiving the (committee’s) report. After I have an opportunity to review it and the key recommendations, you’ll hear a plan of how we’re going to move forward.”

Healing can’t begin until caregivers find the root cause of the pain, Kennedy said.

“We’ve always worked at the outer layer of the onion: if we can just get them to quit drinking, if we can just get them to show up at school.

“We need to look a little bit deeper than that, and to me that’s integrated practice.”

The committee was struck earlier this year to address gaps and improve care in addictions treatment and mental health.

Panel members are going through online questionnaires and written submissions, and have met with stakeholders.

The committee is to finalize its recommendations by the end of the year.

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