Clinic success spotlights dire need for help for children

Debora Van Brenk // Western NewsColin King, director of the Western-led Child and Youth Development Clinic, said the interdisciplinary centre has helped about 100 families since opening in October.

Four months after a Western child-and-youth clinic opened as a safety valve for backlogs in mental health services, the centre is working through a waiting list as long as 10 weeks.

The new interdisciplinary Child and Youth Development Clinic helps children work through educational, psychological, behavioural and speech and language difficulties and offers a training ground for student specialists.

Clinic director Colin King said demand has already outpaced the centre’s ability to help everyone as quickly as they would like ­– demand that underscores the scope of community needs and the importance of training new professionals in the field.

“It’s a reflection of London, and of Ontario, of this patchwork quilt we have of not enough services and not enough places for families to go,” said King, a Faculty of Education professor. “There’s a high demand for the types of services we’re able to provide here.”

The clinic has so far helped about 100 families and has received close 250 inquiries for services. Its capacity is limited, in part, by the number of graduate students and clinician-supervisors available.

“It’s a case of, ‘If you build it, they will come,’” King said. “We had phone calls in September, even before our (October) grand opening. After opening, and well into November, we were getting daily emails.”

The only interdisciplinary training clinic of its kind in Ontario, its main roles are comprehensive assessment services, intervention and treatment and consultation. It receives referrals from school boards, physicians, community agencies and health professionals; families can also contact the clinic without a referral.

The irony of a waitlist for a new clinic is not lost on anyone working in the field, King said. If anything, it reinforces the dire need for more people and places available to help children.

“We know we can’t be the answer for the city’s and the province’s issue of a shortage of service but we hope to be part of an answer,” King said.

In the community, families sometimes wait several months to receive assessment and therapy from speech and language pathologists, psychologists and other health and education professionals.

Part of the draw of the Western clinic has been a shorter waiting list, comprehensive and multi-faceted assessments ­– and a sliding fee scale to match families’ ability to pay. “It’s been an incredible journey so far,” King continued.

One strength is its interdisciplinary work, as it includes Faculty of Education students in School and Applied Child Psychology, Clinical Psychology and Applied Behaviour Analysis, along with Faculty of Health Sciences students from the School of Communication Disorders in Speech and Language Pathology.

The hard work of everyone involved in the clinic can’t be overstated, King said, and students have invested in the clinic beyond expectations. “They’re the ones who are really the ambassadors to the families.”

Of special value is the fact students have the opportunity to work side-by-side with professionals from other disciplines and consult each other to work through families’ interconnected issues such as literacy, social issues and well-being, he said. Writing joint reports adds value and prepares them for collaborations necessary in professional practice.

In addition to providing individual help, the clinic offers two programs to assist several families at a time: Boss Back Worry, a six-week anxiety group for children ages 8-11, and a 10-week Wise Words spelling and reading group for primary pupils.

Group sessions are helpful in letting families know they are not alone in experiencing stresses and struggles, King said. “There’s this sort of magic to having this shared personal experience with people who are also living these challenges day in and day out.”

The Child and Youth Development Clinic

What is it? One of the first interdisciplinary training clinics in Ontario. Graduate students in School and Applied Child PsychologyClinical PsychologyApplied Behaviuor Analysis, and Speech and Language Pathology programs provide treatment services for children and youth from 3-18 years of age who are experiencing psychological, academic, and/or speech and language difficulties. All treatment and services provided are conducted under the supervision of Western experts.

Where is it? The clinic is located in the BMO Bank of Montreal Building on Richmond Street, just north of the University Gates.

How to connect? Call 519-661-4257 or go to childandyouthdevelopment.ca.

For additional help. Contact other community services include London Mental Health Crisis Centre,  Vanier Children’s Services and its ‘Talk-In Clinics’, Canadian Mental Health Association, First Episode Mood and Anxiety Program and Craigwood Youth and Family Services.