Province announces $87 million to support children and youth

The funding comes after three years of schools disrupted by the pandemic to varying degrees.


The Alberta government is committing $87 million in new funding over three years to improve access to mental health and pediatric rehabilitation supports for children.

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The funds will largely reach children through better school supports, Mike Ellis, associate minister for mental health and addictions, said Thursday morning from Holy Trinity School in Calgary.

“My vision is that all children and youth in Alberta have the opportunity to improve their mental health as part of a recovery-oriented system of care,” he said. “We make sure children have the supports they need in schools to reach their full potential and live healthy, happy lives.”

The funding comes after three years of schools disrupted by the pandemic to various grades, resulting in isolation from peers and supports and heightened levels of anxiety that have followed them back into classrooms.

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Specifically, $42 million will go directly to mental health supports over three years, starting by expanding the footprint of the programs in Calgary and Edmonton and then working in other communities. CASA Child, Adolescent and Family Mental Health will develop a model of integrated school services that will provide clear connections to existing community resources to facilitate families and children’s access to services.

The Integrated School Support Program, led by the Calgary Police Youth Foundation, will take a leadership role in this expansion in Calgary. ISSP includes a variety of school programs including meal programs, after school care, structured physical education, and access to mental health professionals.

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ISSP is currently at two schools in Calgary, Holy Trinity School and Patrick Airlie School, and this funding could reach 20, according to Gillian Bowerman, provincial director of ISSP programs.

“We try to teach kids to be resilient so they have coping mechanisms, self-regulation skills, all of those things,” he said.

Increased anxiety has been the biggest issue among students returning to classrooms and this has manifested itself in a number of different ways, depending on grade level. For example, anecdotally there have been higher levels of aggression at the high school levels, while students at the lower levels have difficulty knowing how to socialize and interact appropriately, while others have had lower than normal academic results.

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Bowerman said that they have not received specific funding from the province for the last three years for ISSP, and this was a welcome announcement.

Carrie Lodermeier of the Calgary Division of Catholic Schools said each program costs about $300,000 to run and that CPS involvement has been comprehensive, including officers volunteering for many components.

The impact the program has had on these two schools has been enormous.

“One of the biggest benefits we’ve seen is having access to mental health like we do at ISSP,” he said. “Trust and strong relationships develop between the psychologist and mental health support and the students extend to the family.”

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She added that because of this foundation already created through ISSP, it makes it much more efficient to get additional effective supports for students.

The programs build on previously announced $10 million per year for the next two school years to support pilot projects focused on improving the delivery of mental health supports to students.

Joanne Anderson, a spokeswoman for the Calgary Board of Education, said in an emailed statement that the new funding is appreciated and that they will continue to address the needs of students on an individual basis, reflecting their needs.

“We want all students to be successful in their learning and we recognize that positive mental health allows students to fully engage in their learning. When teachers identify students who seem to be struggling with mental health and wellness, we work with families and community partners to refer them and suggest resources for students and their families.”

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The province is also committing $45 million over three years for pediatric rehabilitation services. This is to improve access to and quality of services and programs, such as speech and language, occupational, and physical therapy.

Alberta Health Services will offer the supports in collaboration with early identification efforts in schools. These supports will be offered in all five AHS zones and are in addition to the previously announced $10 million per year for the next two school years to increase access to specialized assessments.

The funding will also complement other initiatives geared toward access to a full continuum of recovery-oriented mental health and addiction supports.

All funded programs will begin to take root in the next school year and will expand over the next two years.

[email protected]

Twitter: @JoshAldrich03

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