More About The Gaping Hole in the Safety Net

by Rosemary Gray-Snelgrove

This blog picks up where the blog of September 30, 2012 left off…

Not having more to say on the subject at this time, but still aware of the anguish of caring for an autistic young person or one who is mentally disturbed,  I’ve seen two pieces in the weekend newspapers  that address the lack of support and of proper care for these afflicted.  Right away I wanted to share them with readers.  (And this blog ends with a story of someone who encountered the necessary kinds of help and is moving up and on).

Ontario is abysmally short of mental health services

The first is a letter to the Editor of the Globe and Mail (Nov 10) commenting on Ashley Smith, the tormented young woman who really fell afoul of the system:

The death of Ashley Smith is our canary in the coal mine, representing our continuing failure to invest in mental health services and reduce seclusion and restraint (Bob Rae Calls for Inquiry Into Prison Death – Nov 9, G&M).

Correctional investigator Howard Sapers reports that 30 similar deaths have occurred in federal correctional facilities since he launched his investigation.

Only one in six children is able to access mental health care when the child needs it, and wait times can be up to 18 months.

Despite all the rhetoric and reports about improving mental health services since 1979, the mental health share of health spending has declined by more than 40 percent in Ontario.  While other countries, such as Australia, have invested $147 per capita to improve mental health services, our investments have ranged from $4 to $16 per capita.  (highlighting is mine RGS)

Steve Lurie, executive director, CMHA, toronto, on

And Why We Should Not Be Complacent About Autism

The Editor of the Toronto Star today (Nov 10) saw fit to write an “Editor’s Note” on page 1, as a kind of Shout-Out , drawing attention to the prevalence of autism in North America.  He also describes action the paper has taken, to do what it can by researching and reporting to us, the public.

Here’s an impossibly true statistic: one child in 88 has autism.

The most highly placed Canadian experts agree that although that figure was compiled by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it echoes north of the border.

Autism is a quiet, creeping epidemic.  And it’s ours.


To date, reportage on autism has seldom ventured beyond glancing looks at challenges for families, offering few solutions.  So we assigned eight Star journalists a two-pronged purpose: bring us back stories on autism we have never read before and unearth policies that need fixing.  Do some good.

You will read the result of their work in the coming days…You’ll meet an autistic man who went to prison for years in an injustice linked – simply, tragically – to resources.  You’ll meet Deckard and Jasper and Gillian and Chris, and the weight of their stories will send a singular message: Ontario needs an autism model akin to Cancer Care Ontario, which co-ordinates care for cancer patients.  The current maze of services means families are buckling under the stress of caring for children with autism.

The province needs a vision.

There’s a one in 88 chance your family will need it, too.

Support Found,  A Changed Life Stands a Chance

This week I spent time with a person from my former work life – about whom I had often wondered but assumed to be lost among the thousands living with a criminal past and a drug habit.  He was different from many, in that he was sometimes capable of seeing his behaviour in a wider context than the immediate circumstances.  He was aware that he was a thief by profession and a good one (but not good enough to never be caught).  He could acknowledge that he was making choices that were hurting him and others but was unable to alter the patterns.  He was intelligent and had a sense of humour.  But he was impossible to help.  And he did some terrible things.

Apparently, in the four years since I had seen him regularly, he had hit the proverbial ‘bottom” and knew it was time to choose to live or die.  This time, he was just open enough to meet the right people and found a decent place to live.  He began to make progress, not wanting to ever return to jail, so cutting back on his habit enough to reduce the need to support it by stealing.  He began a 12-step program.  He sought help from CAMH and took up “journaling”, recording the steps in his new life.  Great good luck befell him when he was assigned a care worker from Community Resource Connections of Toronto.   This woman meets with him several times weekly and is available on the phone when he needs to talk.   He is excited at the discoveries he’s making about some of the sources of his destructive activity, particularly the way he has sabotaged all previous efforts to help him.

There are a few key elements in what looks like a possible recovery story.  He has a home base – a small apartment that he is slowly furnishing.  He has found some professional  diagnosis and treatment.  He has a real connection with the professional woman assigned to provide support.

They both say that one of his real struggles is to establish an identity that reflects enough of who he feels himself to be (a recovering bad guy trying to go straight) while incorporating some of who he wants to be (a person who can help other guys, particularly those with Hepatitis C – a common disease among drug users).   If he meets some people he could really work with, he has the smarts and the drive to very possibly pull something off (he’d like to establish a house where people can stay while going through the most difficult part of the Hepatitis treatment).

The right support over a sufficient amount of time – and a new identity in formation that can be practiced and moulded by action:  Oh boy, meeting him made for a very good day.

Note: these are the people that Mr. Harper and his Ministers would like us to regard as Criminals, underserving of consideration or help.  “Once a crook always a crook” – his working principle for shaping policy.  What a wasteful line of thought!



Filed under A Bigger Circle, Rosemary's entries, Uncategorized

2 responses to “More About The Gaping Hole in the Safety Net

  1. Thanks Rosemary!
    I couldn’t agree more.

  2. Bob Luker

    Thanks Rosemary. Very wise.
    …And thinking about the social safety net, we have the rather limited Social Assistance Review Report, just published. The Minister responsible has apparently rejected the only substantive, if inadequate, recommendation addressing urgent and deep poverty [$100/month more for singles on “Ontario Works”] and called for yet more consultations, There are some minor good reforms recommended that would reduce some suffering and some of the seeming irrationality of the system, but there are also problematic recommendations likely to decrease the support for the disabled in actual practice.
    What we don’t have is a plan for reducing/eliminating poverty. This seems to have fallen out of the agendas of all the political parties. For a faith-based response people might want to read what ISARC has to say. The Wellesley Institute has a policy level response and OCAP has a sharp and angry answer on line. What is probably most needed is an assertive social justice movement we can all participate in from our different locations and in our differing ways.

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