Child advocate holds N.B. mental health summit

New Brunswick parents of children with mental health problems will be sharing their experiences of navigating through the province's social services network for the next two days.

Some parents of children with mental health problems will be sharing their experiences of navigating through New Brunswick's social services network for the next two days.

Child and Youth Advocate Bernard Richard is holding a summit to hear from parents and experts that will lead to a report outlining a new way of co-ordinating services for children struggling with mental health issues.

One parent said she was told her daughter get better treatment if she broke the law and ended up before the courts.

Lisa Patterson's daughter Carly has spent time at a centre in Moncton that assesses but doesn't treat children with mental illness.

She's also been in the pediatrics unit at a Fredericton hospital where no psychiatric services exist. Patterson said local mental health services do not provide the long-term care her daughter needs.

"I was even told by one professional, `You'd be better off if she did break the law, because you may be able to access the Criminal Youth Justice Act, and there might be more options there,'" Patterson said.

Richard said he expects to hear more stories like that in the next two days.

Preparing report

The child and youth advocate was asked by the provincial government to propose a new model that could provide new services and better coordination than what exists now.

Richard said he understands the Progressive Conservative government is cutting costs as it does battle with the $747-million deficit.

But the child advocate said existing services operated by the provincial government are expensive and inefficient.

"This year, seven cases have cost the province $3 million," the child advocate said.

The former Liberal government of Shawn Graham asked for the report. But Richard said he is optimistic the new Tory government will still act on his recommendations.

He said the choice comes down to pay for better services now or face higher costs later in the courts, in prisons, and in lives.

Richard said the tragic case of Ashley Smith, the Moncton teenager who died in an Ontario prison in October 2007, is a reminder that there are other costs to the status quo.

"We've just been reading a lot about Ashley Smith again this week, and the costs of not providing the right services, of waiting to provide the right services, are also huge," Richard said.

Richard expects to submit his report before he retires next March.