Refugee children, including a large number of Syrian newcomers, are now waiting up to six months for specialized mental health services at a Hamilton agency.
Thrive Child and Youth Trauma Services says it’s the only organization in the city offering the level of care that many of these children need.
Interim Executive Director Catherine Pead says the problem is that they are now at capacity, both clinically and financially.
“At the end of March, we had 25 kids on our wait list in the Oasis program, and 22 of them were Syrian,” she said.
“The challenge we have is that our funding is flat.”
“We don’t get more funding if there are more children in need,” she adds. “So, we are scrambling with fundraising, and going to other funders to see if we can supplement that.”
The OASIS program is currently funded by the provincial Ministry of Children and Youth Services, The City of Hamilton, the Hamilton Community Foundation as well as other individual donors.
Since the spike in referrals, Thrive has been able to hire an additional clinician but Pead says it’s just not enough to meet the demand.
The situation is made worse by the fact that she doesn’t see this as a short-term situation.
Many of the refugees that walk through the doors at Thrive are from war-torn countries, and require professionals trained in trauma care.
“They may have seen people die in front of them. They may have been in a building that had bombs dropped on it,” Pead said, emphasizing the time it takes to process.
“Settlement and integration don’t happen on a schedule, so we may still be seeing trauma emerge in these newcomers for several years to come.”
In children, trauma often manifests in a school setting or due to triggers, according to Pead.
It can come in many forms including anxiety, headaches, aggression, outbursts and bed-wetting.
When mental-health needs are not dealt with in an efficient manner, Pead says there is a compound effect later in life, which is why Thrive is calling on all levels of government to help tackle the wait list.
The organization is looking to raise $50,000 to $75,000 in order to meet the extra demand.
That translates into about three additional days of clinical time.
“Maybe at the federal level, we need to see some more resources to help local communities with the complex integration needs of this particular population” Pead said.