A mental healthcare pilot program that launched in Richmond last year aiming to better protect children will expand to other municipalities across the province, according to the Ministry of Children and Family Development.
Safe Relationships, Safe Children has sought to change the way front-line mental health practitioners identify risks posed to children in families affected by mental illness.
The program, started in Richmond and Vernon, was born of a high-profile filicide in Merritt in 2008 when mentally ill Merritt resident Allan Schoenborn killed his three children Kaitlynn, 10, Max, 8, and Cordon, 5, at their home in April, 2008 The program will now expand to 19 other municipalities in the short-term until it is eventually implemented province-wide.
The program prioritizes identifying if a patient has children and, if so, instructs practitioners to make a determination if they are in danger. In such cases the program also helps different mental healthcare facilities and organizations communicate and collaborate with one another on the needs of the patient and children.
Whereas before the focus may have just been on the patient, the program represents a "paradigm" shift in how to identify children in dangerous situations, according to Sonja Sinclair, Richmond's program coordinator for Vancouver Coastal Health.
"We're pulling children further into the forefront and making practitioners more aware of what the risk factors are for children," said Sinclair.
She added Richmond was chosen for the program because it had a number of mental healthcare facilities and organizations in place that had already shown a degree of collaboration.
Representative for Children and Youth Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafonde, who provides legislated independent oversight of the Ministry, called the family-based approach to mental health important and a "good development." She noted that the next step is to improve services for children thereafter.
"I think what we've seen in Richmond - because there is a diversity of resources that have been pulled together there - has been some really good family-focused work done," she said.
Turpel-Lafonde added she is still waiting for a promised provincial integrated domestic violence policy which has been postponed to date. She said Safe Relationships Safe Children is "a piece of the puzzle that still needs the other parts."
Sharing information and needs of a patient is a critical component for finding a solution, Sinclair said, especially if the patient visits multiple places seeking help.
For example, Sinclair said if a parent enters Richmond Addiction Services, staff may identify a need for the family to also visit Supporting Families, a VCH community program for families affected by parental mental illness or addictions.
Roz Walls, director of Supporting Families, said her organization had helped about 100 families in 2013.
"Families can fall between the cracks of our system," she said.
Another example of collaboration, Sinclair said, is Richmond Addiction Services and the emergency department at Richmond Hospital working together on high-risk cases.
Also, in October, some of Richmond's mental healthcare practitioners created an integrated meeting group to manage high-risk domestic violence cases in the municipality.
Sinclair said a handful of cases have already been identified.
A community tool kit and a practitioners guide to enhance such practices have been created thanks to the pilot program.
Other than shifting some work hours to devote to training the program didn't cost anything to implement and Sinclair hopes that in the future increased efficiencies will be found through better collaboration.