Richmond services will soon be able to improve identification and management of situations where children's safety is at risk.
The Ministry of Children and Family Development and the Ministry of Health are setting up pilot projects, which are considered to be the first step towards a province-wide program to strengthen supports for families affected by mental illness, substance abuse and domestic violence.
The projects are part of the government's response to a report from the B.C.
Representative for Children and Youth that investigated the tragic 2008 deaths of Max, Kaitlynne and Cordon Schoenborn, who were murdered by their abusive and psychotic father.
As part of Richmond's involvement, service providers in a variety of health and community settings will be asked to indicate holes in the system. Depending on the outcome of extensive consultations, changes may be made to how assessments are done and situations are referred, as well as education programs.
"The projects are designed to develop partnerships, so parents (with problems) can quickly be recognized when looking for help in their community," said Carolyn Steinberg, medical leader of infant child and adolescent psychiatry at Richmond Hospital.
The aim is to ensure early identification of parents with an untreated mental illness, problematic substance abuse, or risk of domestic violence once they enter the health care system or come into contact with a government agency, said Stephanie Cadieux, the Minister for Children and Family Development.
She added the goal is to eventually ensure effective procedures are in place, vital information is shared and staff members are adequately trained to assess risk factors and better address safety needs - of all family members involved.
Steinberg agreed, saying, "The lens needs to be broadened. An individual with a behaviour or concern should be looked at as part of a family and a community.
"And as soon as we focus on the whole family, a lot of people will be willing to jump on board, saying 'Of course, we should have thought of them, too'."
Reaching out to the entire family is essential, as the problems parents face, also have an enormous impact on the development of their children.
When mental illness affects a person's ability to attend to oneself, it inevitably affects the individual's ability to attend to their children.
Consequently, Cadieux said safety risks to children or other members of the family should be identified. The projects will also seek to ensure families are connected with appropriate supports and services, and their progress over time is monitored.
"We're hoping to ensure a healthy development of children within those families," said Steinberg.
The psychiatrist added Richmond already enjoys strong cross-discipline and cross-agency communication, resulting in "good working community relationships".
Cadieux added the Richmond model for supporting families with parental mental illness and addictions includes some key partners - Vancouver Coast Health, Richmond Addictions Services, MCFD and Chimo Crisis Services - working collaboratively, sharing
information in a unique program that helps both parents and - children in cases of parental mental illness or problematic substance use.
In the end, it is "about assessing differences in their practices and understanding that services have the opportunity to teach and learn from each other," concluded Steinberg.
The pilots are currently limited to Richmond and Vernon, but are expected to expand to 20 communities in 2013.
An evaluation framework will assess how the new processes are func-
tioning and whether they are benefitting clients and their families. Those assessments will help shape a province-wide implementation, targeted for 2014.