Dear Future Mayor: What a privilege to lead an incredible city like Toronto. Home to millions of children and youth. Home to the largest school board in Canada and the 4th largest in North America. Home to a place where these children and youth really need your help.
You see, parents are already aware of how hard the COVID-19 pandemic has been on their kids. A recent Abacus Data report for BGC Canada found that 42 per cent of parents say the pandemic negatively impacted their child’s mental health. You need only read the headlines to hear about the very worst of the crisis. Violence on the TTC up 46 per cent year over year. Youth committing violence, youth falling victim to violence. Have you read the statements by Andrea Magalhae whose 16-year-old son was stabbed on the TTC? “We need more social services, said Magahae. We need more investment into physical and mental health. We need more supports for housing. I feel like, as things go the way they are going right now, so many people are going to be suffering the horrible pain that I am going through right now.”
May 1 -7th is Mental Health Week. As more children and youth struggle with their mental health, the challenges increase for workers in local youth-serving agencies. Child and youth workers are taking on more significant responsibilities to support those children.
Yet despite the critical value these front-line workers bring, they don’t often have the mental health training and supports they need. A study from Mental Health Research Canada found only one-third of employees have access to burnout prevention programs and few are comfortable talking to their supervisors about their mental health.
This adds additional stress, often quite often leading to frontline-worker burnout for those helping the most vulnerable and impressionable part of our society.
According to the Abacus Report, 95 per cent of parents with children and youth aged five to 18 support additional government funding for front-line workers in child and youth-serving agencies. Parents want staff to receive accredited training and access to mental health support.
Investing in mental health services will not only support youth and front-line staff now but will have impacts on the future of this great city. When children and youth have access to early intervention and prevention programs, they carry those skills throughout their lives.
In addition, if staff have mental health training and access to their own mental health services this will prevent burnout – and lead to less staff leaving a sector that is already struggling with recruitment and retention.
Dear future mayor, it’s time to focus on supporting ECEs and child and youth workers mental health in a timely way so they can support groups disproportionately impacted by the pandemic. We ask that you and City Councillors work with our Clubs across the City to support children, youth, and the staff that work with them. We realize it’s going to be tough. It will mean a strong lobbying for more help from all levels of government. But we are hoping you will be our advocate. Making these investments will have an unbelievable impact on children, youth, and the front-line staff that support them. The is vital to the growth and development of not only children and youth, but the future of our great city.
About the author:
Owen Charters is President CEO of BGC Canada, with headquarters in Toronto, ON. BGC Canada is a national charity that provides safe, supportive places where children and youth can experience new opportunities, overcome barriers, build positive relationships, and develop confidence and skills for life. In this piece, he draws from a report published by BGC Canada, Canadian Mental Health Association, Canadian Child Care Federation, and YWCA. The full report can be found here.