Ministry facing shortage of child, youth mental-health counsellors

‘Their staff of four are on leave or gone,’ school board vice chair says

The Ministry of Children and Family Development (MCFD) is the latest organization having trouble recruiting professional staff for jobs on the Sunshine Coast.

Coast Reporter recently learned that the ministry is struggling to find child and youth mental health (CYMH) clinicians.

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Four CYMH clinician openings at the ministry’s Sechelt officer were posted in early October – two full-time and one part-time position and one temporary assignment from December 2019 to December 2020.  The clinicians “provide a range of mental health services to children, youth and their families when the child or youth is suffering from serious emotional, psychological, behavioral or psychiatric illness.”

During a discussion of provincial funding and services at a Nov. 26 meeting of a School District No. 46 (SD46) committee, board vice chair Stacia Leach said, “I know that the ministry … right now has no child and youth counsellors. Their staff of four are on leave or gone.”

Kate Kerr, SD46’s director of instruction for student support services, told Coast Reporter that while schools don’t directly refer students, “we do support families and youth through the referral process to access mental health supports.”

MCFD is “an integral and collaborative partner in providing mental health services for youth,” Kerr said in an email.

“We are aware that staffing shortages have impacted a variety of services on the coast and I know that MCFD are doing their utmost to hire and recruit staff,” she said.

As an opposition MLA in 2017, the NDP’s Nicholas Simons criticized the minister of the day for not acting to address a staffing concern in Sechelt – in that case, three unfilled vacancies for social workers, which, Simons said, put vulnerable children at risk.

Simons, who now chairs the Legislature’s standing committee on children and youth, said he’s heard similar concerns about the current vacancies for child and youth mental health clinicians, and staffing shortages within MCFD are an issue in many areas of the province.

“I think that our situation is more acute right now because of leaves of absence and difficulty in recruitment due to, in many cases, the housing affordability issues,” Simons said. “They’re not unlike RCMP or Vancouver Coastal Health or other large employers who are having difficulty in recruitment.”

Vancouver Coastal Health and the RCMP have said publicly that factors such as housing affordability and lack of employment opportunities for spouses have made it difficult to fill some vacancies on the Coast.

Simons said he plans to “make sure the ministry knows this is an issue that might require a specific or targeted response.”

Coast Reporter’s request to speak with the team leader for child and youth mental health on the Sunshine Coast was bumped up to the communications and public engagement office at the Ministry of Children and Family Development, which responded with a two-sentence email.

“MCFD’s Sunshine Coast/Pemberton local service area continues to manage staffing levels, responding to occasional vacancies as they arise and adjusting coverage as needed while prioritizing frontline service delivery,” it said.

“This includes the temporary reassignment of a Child and Youth Mental Health clinician from another service area to provide added short-term coverage.”

The ministry has not yet answered a follow-up request for specific responses on questions about whether any of the jobs posted in October have been filled, whether the person on temporary reassignment is the only CYMH clinician currently working out of the Sechelt office, whether there has been any negative impact on service delivery, whether a shortage of affordable housing on the Sunshine Coast is one of the reasons it has been difficult to fill these positions and when it expects the Sechelt office to be up to its normal staff complement.

– With files from Sophie Woodrooffe

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