Foundation to invest $3.2 million in children’s health on Island

The Children’s Health Foundation of Vancouver Island is making the largest annual investment in its 90-year history.

The foundation announced Tuesday it would commit $3.2 million to 55 projects and programs across Vancouver Island, which it expects to benefit 32,000 kids. About $570,000 will go toward 17 youth-focused mental-health resources.

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“That’s one of the biggest growing needs we’re seeing in health care,” board chairman Bill  Snell said.

A 2014 report by the Children’s Health Policy Centre, based at Simon Fraser University, estimated that one in eight B.C. children and youth experiences a mental-health disorder at any given time, but up to a third are not receiving specialized mental-health services.

“There’s a lack of resources and a quickly growing need,” Snell said. “And what we are seeing as a foundation over time is that mental health is emerging as the fastest-growing health issue on the Island for youth and children.”

About $300,000 will fund eight specialized “navigator” positions across the Island for mental-health care. At the Victoria Youth Clinic, for example, the navigator will meet with youth and their families to advise them about available services, make referrals and help them create a care plan.

There will also be seed funding for baby “bed boxes” in the Comox Valley and North Island — cardboard bassinets given to new parents to help newborns sleep safely — as well as a music-based speech-therapy summer camp for kids in Nanaimo and occupational therapy kits for kids with disabilities in Port Alberni.

While the foundation works closely with Island Health to fill gaps in the traditional health-care system, many of the projects are based in communities outside of clinical or hospital settings. That’s a shift from past decades, when people associated health care with doctor visits.

“Health-care delivery is evolving and changing,” foundation CEO Veronica Carroll said.

The decision to focus on mental health was one of the reasons for the foundation’s successful year at raising funds, mainly from private donors, she said. “We’ve been out in the community, talking to donors who have supported us in the past. Invariably, people talk about their own personal and family experiences with mental health, so we knew there would be tremendous support.”

Despite the large investment, there remains more need than the foundation could fund, Snell said. “We have to find ways to grow our donor base to meet those needs and fill some of the applications that weren’t successful. That’s the worst part and toughest part of our role — turning away worthwhile projects.”

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