After 25 years of mental health work in Thunder Bay, the head of the Children's Centre has just retired.

Tom Walters' leadership of the organization officially ended December 31.

Walters said, over the years, he's seen how financial limitations have forced staff to be creative in how they provide services. 

"We do more group work ... we opened a walk-in counselling clinic which has been a super success,” he said.

“I think that you've seen, by default, people really getting a good hard look at what works with kids and how do we do it effectively.”

Walters says he's optimistic about the future of mental health services for children in Thunder Bay, as both the public and politicians are paying more attention to the issues than ever before.

‘People are now talking about the problems’

Walters noted that children's mental health needs have grown more complex in the 25 years since he began working at the Children's Centre.  

"Substance use and different types of drugs ... you see more kids struggling with that."

But many of the same issues persist through the generations, he said, such as “stress, anxiety, depression ... sexual abuse and violence. That was there then and it's still here."

What's changed for the better, though, is that people are now talking about the problems and thinking about investing in children and their mental health.

As the services for children become more streamlined, Walters said he’s hopeful people won't “have to tell their story a million times.”

"[There will] be a flow of information to get people to the right place. I think that's going to happen. We're just struggling to get it up and going but I think it's going to happen in the next year or so."

The Children's Centre houses clinics and drop-in programs for kids, teens and parents.

tom walters in thunder bay studio

Tom Walters chats with CBC Superior Morning host Lisa Laco about his retirement from the Children's Centre in Thunder Bay. (Nicole Ireland/CBC)

Staff members also work in Thunder Bay schools.

Lakehead District School Board director Catherine Siemieniuk said that service inside schools is critical.   

"[Mental health counselling] is not something that educators have the training and background for,” she said.  

"We ... have children for a predominant part of their waking day,” she added. “Because children are in our buildings for that amount of time, we need to make sure that we have those partnerships that can provide that level of service."

Siemieniuk said Walters has made a huge contribution to mental health in Thunder Bay — both in schools and in the broader community — and will be missed.

But Siemieniuk said she has met with Walters' successor, Diane Walker, and is confident that Walker shares his commitment to school-based mental health services.