Closing Thistletown is like closing Sick Kids’ Hospital and
sending patients to community clinics
(TORONTO) – Parents, community members, and workers
have taken their fight for children and youth to Eric Hoskins’
doorstep. They’re at a sit-in at the office of the Ontario cabinet
minister responsible for closing the groundbreaking and
highly-acclaimed Thistletown Regional Centre.
The group has asked for a meeting with Hoskins,
Minister of Children and Youth Services. He has failed to meet with
families of Thistletown’s 415 clients. He has neither made public
his transition plan nor committed to long-term funding of
Thistletown’s innovative research, programs, and treatment, now
worth about $18 million.
Thistletown is a last resort for children and youth
with complex mental health, behavioural, or developmental
challenges, such as extreme autism, or who have experienced sexual
abuse. Hospitals and community agencies have turned them away.
Thistletown’s expert teams developed and deliver programs that work.
“It makes no more sense to close an expert place of
last resort like Thistletown than it would to close cancer centres
or Sick Kids’ Hospital and send patients to a community clinic,”
says Pat Balog, Thistletown employee and president of Ontario Public
Service Employees Union Local 547. “The McGuinty government is
cutting services for some of the most needy and vulnerable people in
Ontario. Our clients are difficult to place, treat, and heal. By the
time they get to us, they have a long history, nowhere to turn, and
their families are desperate.”
Children’s mental health services are patchwork,
fragmented, and limited. Families wait an average eight months for
community agencies. The crisis will deepen if Thistletown closes.
Schools and community agencies refer children and youth to
Thistletown, which also has a waiting list. And special education
classrooms have lost 400 teaching assistants.
“Most places are not equipped to handle children and
youth who wind up at Thistletown,” says Bruce McIntosh, parent of a
Thistletown client. “And even if they were, they can’t absorb them
without displacing others. This will end badly. That much is clear.
People are waiting to get in to Thistletown, not out.
“The minister must meet with Thistletown parents as
a group, not individually. We need to get the same information at
the same time from the minister and understand completely what the
government has in mind for our children.”