Ontario budget puts focus on children’s mental health

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From pharmacare to daycare to child welfare, Ontario kids got a lot of attention in the provincial budget.

The Liberals are pledging a further $49 million for children’s mental health and wellness, mainly through school-based programs.

Those funds, spread over three years, are to “improve students’ cognitive, emotional, social and physical development through equity and inclusive education, safe and accepting schools, healthy schools and positive mental health,” Ontario budget documents said.

Some 70 per cent of adults who suffer from mental health issues report their troubles began when they were young.

The $134 million promised for child welfare will be spent over the next four years. The funds come as the government revamps the Child, Youth and Family Services Act, which it has promised will give kids in provincial care more of a say in the decisions that affect them.

The government is also putting $200 million in new operating funds that will create 24,000 additional daycare spaces this year — 16,000 of them subsidized for low- to moderate-income families.

More on the 2017 Ontario budget

Experts say they are cautiously optimistic about the announcement, part of the government’s plan for 100,000 new spaces over the next five years.

“I think that putting money into the subsidy systems, where wait lists are so long, is the right thing to do in the short term,” said Martha Friendly of the Ontario Coalition for Better Child Care.

“This will not only help parents, but centres with vacancies they can’t fill.”

However, she added “everything we know shows that individual subsidies are not the solution to fixing child care, so I’m really glad they are committing to a broader affordability plan.”

In Toronto, about 15,400 children are waiting for daycare subsidies while more than 4,000 spaces sit vacant because parents can’t afford fees that top $20,000 a year for young children.

Friendly said she looks forward to hearing about other aspects of the five-year plan, expected to be released later in May.

“I’m hopeful that that will really be something that we can work with,” she said. “(I’m) enthusiastic about getting started.”

The province is also moving ahead with hubs — or one-stop shops — for teens and young adults needing mental health help or support for addictions, setting up nine across Ontario.