WATCH: A single mom from Langford says parents of children with mental illness in B.C. aren’t getting the help they need because it isn’t considered a ‘special need’. April Lawrence reports.
Like most young boys Asher and his little brother Jonah are full of energy. But daily life for the Sandborn family is anything but typical.
4-year-old Jonah has a progressive genetic disease with intellectual and mobility issues, while 6-year-old Asher has severe obsessive-compulsive disorder.
“As soon as Asher opens his eyes he either starts counting or has to say the same words over and over and over again and it’s the only way he’s able to lessen his anxiety and feel safe,” said their mother Kristen Sandborn.
Asher’s rituals continue all day until he goes to sleep, and often prevent him from going to school or even leaving the house at all.
Although Asher has the highest needs of Sandborn’s two young children, because his illness is mental rather than intellectual or physical, he doesn’t qualify for in-home support.
“There’s no behaviour intervention that might be for a child with autism, there’s no respite, there’s no other adults that can come in and help with his rituals so he can go to school, so he can participate in life,” Sandborn said.
She says Jonah does qualify for in-home support but because his special needs aren’t severe, the wait list is two years.
Meanwhile, her options for Asher are a 6-week in-patient program at BC Children’s Hospital, or voluntarily placing him in foster care, where they do have access to social workers and respite.
“Not only are we not providing services to kids with severe mental illness, but we’re also taking them out of their homes and further traumatizing them by separating them from their families,” Sandborn said.
The Ministry of Children and Families says clinicians determine whether or not a child has special needs or if they have mental health challenges.
Based on that medical assessment, it’s determined whether they receive supports and services under its Child and Youth with Special Needs Program or its Child and Youth Mental Health Program.
The Ministry of Children and Families says it has 100 Child and Youth Mental Health walk-in clinics that triage to both in-house services and services that may be a better fit within the broader community, tapping into other mental health resources in B.C.
One example it says is a program that provides telephone coaching for parents to help support children with behavioral issues.
Kristen Sandborn says she doesn’t need parenting tips she needs help in her home.