(TORONTO) – Parents, community members, and workers have taken their fight for children and youth to Eric Hoskins’ doorstep. They’re at a sit-in at the office of the Ontario cabinet minister responsible for closing the groundbreaking and highly-acclaimed Thistletown Regional Centre.
The group has asked for a meeting with Hoskins, Minister of Children and Youth Services. He has failed to meet with families of Thistletown’s 415 clients. He has neither made public his transition plan nor committed to long-term funding of Thistletown’s innovative research, programs, and treatment, now worth about $18 million.
Thistletown is a last resort for children and youth with complex mental health, behavioural, or developmental challenges, such as extreme autism, or who have experienced sexual abuse. Hospitals and community agencies have turned them away. Thistletown’s expert teams developed and deliver programs that work.
“It makes no more sense to close an expert place of last resort like Thistletown than it would to close cancer centres or Sick Kids’ Hospital and send patients to a community clinic,” says Pat Balog, Thistletown employee and president of Ontario Public Service Employees Union Local 547. “The McGuinty government is cutting services for some of the most needy and vulnerable people in Ontario. Our clients are difficult to place, treat, and heal. By the time they get to us, they have a long history, nowhere to turn, and their families are desperate.”
Children’s mental health services are patchwork, fragmented, and limited. Families wait an average eight months for community agencies. The crisis will deepen if Thistletown closes. Schools and community agencies refer children and youth to Thistletown, which also has a waiting list. And special education classrooms have lost 400 teaching assistants.
“Most places are not equipped to handle children and youth who wind up at Thistletown,” says Bruce McIntosh, parent of a Thistletown client. “And even if they were, they can’t absorb them without displacing others. This will end badly. That much is clear. People are waiting to get in to Thistletown, not out.
“The minister must meet with Thistletown parents as a group, not individually. We need to get the same information at the same time from the minister and understand completely what the government has in mind for our children.”
Denis Daoussis, Child & Youth Worker, 416.402.3969
Bruce McIntosh, Ontario Autism Coalition, 416.451.8315