'The need is overwhelming': Algoma Family Services seeking more resources to meet demand

The head of Algoma Family Services is supporting a proposal from the Nogdawindamin Family and Community Services to take over the delivery of mental health support for Indigenous youth, as long as the move does not result in a decrease of funding and resources.

Indigenous children between Sudbury and Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., wait up to 2 years for mental health services

Algoma Family Services has seen a 22 per cent increase in the use of its services over the past five years, but resources and funding have not caught up, according to chief executive officer Ali Juma. (iStock)

The head of Algoma Family Services is supporting a proposal from the Nogdawindamin Family and Community Services to take over the delivery of mental health support for Indigenous youth living in communities along the north shore of Lake Huron in northern Ontario, as long as the move does not result in a decrease of funding and resources. 

"To lose any funding would only exacerbate an already extended system," chief executive officer Ali Juma said. 

"There's only so much we can do with each operating year becoming more expensive. That puts greater and greater pressure on the organization."

Indigenous children between Sudbury and Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., are waiting up to two years to access mental health resources.

The delays have prompted Nogdawindamin, the child welfare authority for seven First Nations on the north shore, to ask the provincial government if it can take over mental health resources from outside agencies, such as Algoma Family Services (AFS).

22 per cent increase in use of services

"The need is overwhelming," Juma said. "The wait times for our Indigenous and even our non-Indigenous children are really a reflection of the limited resources that are available."

AFS has experienced a 22 per cent increase in the demand for its services over the past five years, according to Juma. During that time, the average age of children using the organization's services has decreased from 16 to 11, he added.

Juma said the top reasons for children being referred to AFS are anxiety, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder and mood dysregulation.

But resources and funding have not caught up.

$2M short of adequately addressing needs

The agency has not had an increase to its base budget to meet the cost of living in over a decade, Juma said.

He estimates AFS is at least $2 million short of what it needs to adequately address the demand for its services, and he is concerned about meeting increased operating costs, which could affect both Indigenous and non-Indigenous service providers.

Funding restraints have resulted in the recent resignation of two seasoned counsellors to get jobs with higher wages.

"If AFS can't compete with salaries, than our capacity to provide services is that much more limited," Juma said. 

"The last two years have been phenomenal in terms of the ability to make services a bit more accessible in terms of addressing some of our barriers, but we are in a bit of a dire situation as we go into the upcoming fiscal years with a stagnant budget."

About the Author

Olivia Stefanovich

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Olivia Stefanovich is a network reporter for CBC News based in Toronto. She previously worked in Saskatchewan and northern Ontario. Connect with her on Twitter @CBCOlivia. Send story ideas to olivia.stefanovich@cbc.ca.