Dr. Rummy Dosanjh and Kay Abelson, co-chair and team lead, respectively, of the White Rock-South Surrey Local Action Team. The pair say the LAT has had a “huge” impact on child and youth mental health in the community. (Tracy Holmes photo)

White Rock-South Surrey team leaders describe ‘phenomenal’ success of collaboration

Funds found to continue mental-health efforts for another year

Funding for a provincewide collaborative that formed nearly five years ago with an aim to improve response and support for children and youth dealing with mental health and substance-use issues, and their families, is coming to an end this year.

Those involved in the White Rock-South Surrey Local Action Team of the Child and Youth Mental Health and Substance Use initiative, however, say they have received a year’s grace beyond Dec. 31, thanks to a grant from the Surrey Youth Assistance Fund.

“We couldn’t continue without it,” said Kay Abelson, team lead for the LAT, said in a recent interview, of efforts to raise awareness, reduce stigma and provide tools and resources.

The CYMHSU collaborative formed in the spring of 2013, funded by a partnership of Doctors of BC and the provincial Ministry of Health. It grew to include 64 teams across the province.

White Rock-South Surrey joined in April 2015, pulling together a 70-strong team – including pediatricians, physicians, counsellors, psychiatrists, youth who have personal experience and more – to meet en masse to discuss issues, identify gaps in timely, co-ordinated access to mental-health services for children and youth, and brainstorm how to fill them.

“Anyone that has anything to do with child and youth mental health in the community is at the table,” said Abelson, adding that 2½ years in, the momentum is just starting to build.

CYMHSU project director Valerie Tregillus said it was known “right from the beginning” that funding for the collaborative was time-limited – originally, it was to last just 18 months.

Seeing the success as the collaborative gained steam, it was decided that support should extend “much longer,” Tregillus told Peace Arch News. “Honestly, we didn’t understand the size it was going to be. We never imagined 64 action teams.”

Tregillus described the collaborative as “a massive change mechanism.”

Locally, Abelson and LAT co-chair Dr. Rummy Dosanjh said much of that change has been effected through three working groups: communications, programs in school and education.

The latter, targeted largely at parents, led to such things as a speaker series that featured White Rock teen Ashley Macdonald sharing her lived experience with anxiety. Other events in the series included a suicide-prevention forum and a resource night.

Each was in response to a specific need identified in the community, Abelson noted. For example, the anxiety event was responding to a noticed increase in the disorder – statistics show it affects 22.7 per cent of youth locally – including that children were presenting with symptoms at a younger age.

A peer mentorship program was among successes of the ‘programs in schools’ working group. It connected Grade 11 students with Grade 7 students from their respective feeder schools, to help prepare the younger students for the transition to high school.

For the communications group, Abelson highlighted the creation of a mental health resource pad with tear-off sheets detailing contacts, help lines, websites and more as a success.

Designed as an all-in-one tool for doctors and counsellors to assist kids or families with where to find the help they needed, “it’s really been a benefit,” she said.

Dosanjh and Abelson pointed to a project targeting kids and families that have exhausted all resources within the school system as yet another White Rock-South Surrey LAT success.

The Triage Consulting Team started as a pilot in September 2016, creating a place for school counsellors to bring their most difficult cases. The group – consisting of a physician, a child psychologist, a Ministry of Children and Family Development representative and a school district resource counsellor who meet every two weeks for an hour – hears four such cases a month.

“The whole team discusses the case and the counsellor actually leaves with a plan of action,” Abelson said.

Dosanjh said the impact of having that range of expertise all in one place has been “outstanding.”

“Letters that would make you cry,” she said.

“It’s been having great traction with school personnel. We’ve kind of gone where no one has gone before.”

The TCT group is booked up to the end of the year.

Tregillus said the success of the White Rock-South Surrey team is not unique among the LATs. She estimates more than 90 per cent of the collaborative teams have been “incredibly successful,” with each finding ways to respond to their own communities’ needs.

“Usually you can expect a 25 per cent failure, and we’ve had no failures,” she said.

“The success has blown us away… and White Rock has been phenomenal.”

Tregillus named the development of an emergency-department protocol for the province as another highlight of the collaborative as a whole.

Consistent care in ERs was identified early on as a barrier to addressing child and youth mental-health, she explained. An emergency protocol is now in the process of being adopted across the province’s 109 ERs, and White Rock’s Peace Arch Hospital is among four sites in the Fraser Health region to have completed the training.

Looking ahead for the White Rock-South Surrey LAT, Abelson said despite the Surrey Youth Assistance Fund grant, the team is not worry-free. The grant is enough to cover the co-ordinator’s position and continue with the Triage Consulting Team for the next year.

“It leaves us with actual projects that need funding,” she said.

The need, she and Dosanjh agreed, will extend much longer.

“Mental health doesn’t stop. (It’s) an ongoing process,” Abelson said.

“We need to continue, for the well-being of our children and families in the community.”


Ashley Macdonald was among younger members of the White Rock-South Surrey Local Action Team. She shared her experiences with anxiety as part of an education series. (File photo)

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