OASW Response to the 2021 Ontario Budget
Ontario’s Action Plan: Protecting People’s Health and Economy
Toronto, March 25, 2021 – The Ontario Association of Social Workers (OASW) recognizes and appreciates the Government of Ontario’s focus and investments made in the 2021 Budget to protect the health of Ontarians and our province’s economy in the wake of COVID-19. Critical to our physical and economic recovery is the need to address the fact that 45% of Ontarians surveyed in a recent poll commissioned by OASW report a negative and long-lasting shift in their mental health one year since the onset of the pandemic.
As the largest regulated provider of psychotherapy in the province, Ontario’s Registered Social Workers (RSWs) know all too well the impacts of extended wait times to access mental health care and the frustration felt by individuals and families who do not know where to turn for help. While an additional investment of $175 million in funding for mental health and addictions services in 2021-22 is welcomed, a bolder infusion of funding is required to accelerate the Roadmap to Wellness and build a system responsive to the immediate, increased, and long-term mental health needs of Ontarians. We cannot afford to take the same crisis driven, reactionary and disconnected approach to the delivery of mental health and addiction services when even more people across the lifespan are experiencing deteriorating mental well-being and are seeking these supports.
Just as resourcing and planning within the mental health and addiction system must extend beyond this immediate crisis, OASW is pleased to see the prioritization of funding to create additional beds, upgrade facilities and increase the daily direct hours of care in LTC. Although a focus on hands-on care is important, it is crucial that immediate steps are taken to improve mental health outcomes for residents of LTC, who have been hardest hit by this pandemic.
“Registered Social Workers play a critical role in delivering mental health support to residents in long-term care,” said Dr. Deep Sur, OASW CEO. “While we are pleased to see the continued investment in long-term care, mental health supports should be seen as a vital activity of daily care. Registered Social Workers are an integral part of the interprofessional team and essential to the provision of such supports to residents and their caregivers before, during, and after the pandemic.”
In addition to residents in LTC, we know racialized Ontarians, Newcomers, persons living with disabilities and those living on low incomes have been made especially vulnerable to the impacts of COVID-19. We appreciate the important acknowledgement of this disparity in the 2021 Budget and strongly recommend continued investments to address the structural inequalities that underpin this, including immediate increases to the rates of social assistance and improvement in the availability and quality of affordable housing.
Finally, by virtue of the amount of time children spend in schools, and the near universal contact they provide with all children and families, the school setting can serve as a primary intervention site for child and youth mental health. While OASW welcomed early additional funding for school-based mental health supports, it is worrisome that a continued commitment to such funding is absent from the 2021 Budget, particularly given the alarming reports of the serious deterioration of mental health among children and youth and the long-lasting psychological and social implications this holds for the future generations of our province.
OASW is committed to supporting the government’s effort to address the health and well-being of Ontarians as this is key to implementing a safe and equitable recovery and building strong systems of connected care for those that need it most.