MCH is growing emergency mental health supports for kids
Social worker Meg Denton works at McMaster Children’s Hospital (MCH), supporting families whose children arrive at the pediatric emergency department for care. This includes assisting families of the region’s sickest and most seriously injured children, and young people experiencing a mental health crisis.
The vast majority of Denton’s work involves helping families of children and teens arriving for mental health reasons, such as suicide attempts. “I would estimate that 85 to 90 per cent of our social work team’s focus is on providing mental health support,” says Denton, who has been with MCH’s emergency department for two years.
The work includes providing risk assessments, helping determine next steps for care, supporting admission to hospital or discharge home, safety planning, and organizing referrals to hospital and community supports and services.
MCH saw a steady increase of young people in crisis during the pandemic. A large number had issues such as lack of social interaction, increased conflict at home, and the inability to rely on friends when they couldn’t attend school and activities in person. Substance use disorders were also on the increase. And while children are now back in school and back to their regular activities, the hospital continues to see many young people in crisis.
“Families are frustrated and worried for their children, so improving access to care is great news.”
Denton and her team were pleased to hear about new provincial funding to grow MCH that will help reduce wait times for essential children’s health services including mental health treatment. The new funding also allows her team to support the department with additional social worker coverage to help more kids and families.
Largest investment in MCH’s history
Last July, the Ontario government announced a historic $330 million investment in pediatric health care across the province to reduce wait times and improve access to care for children and teens. When combined with other investments over the past 18 months, it means that HHS is receiving over $48 million in new, ongoing funding for MCH to grow spaces, services and staff. This includes the Ron Joyce Children’s Health Centre in north-end Hamilton, which is part of MCH.
Twenty-four pediatric programs and services have been identified to grow through this investment. MCH will:
- Expand and enhance services, spaces and equipment
- Attract additional qualified health-care workers
- Reduce wait times for essential children’s health care services such as surgeries, procedures, diagnostic imaging, mental health treatment, and child development and rehabilitation
Welcome news for families and staff
“It’s difficult telling families that they’ll have to wait months in order to access services for their child, who’s on a waiting list,” says Denton. “Families are frustrated and worried for their children, so improving access to care is great news.”
Funding will also help the emergency department’s social work team to better manage their workload, adds Denton, who is one of two full-time social workers. Her department has been trying to fill two vacant part-time weekend positions for social workers since before the provincial announcement, which includes funding to expand and adjust part-time hours, making vacant positions more appealing to applicants seeking work-life balance.
“Our work in the pediatric emergency department is intense and fast-paced, and the entire team is a close-knit group that supports each other,” says Denton. “I enjoy working here, and I feel supported. I grew up in Hamilton. I live here and I work here, and I love that my job allows me to support my community in a meaningful way.”