Children, youth and families in Merritt and Princeton will benefit from the expansion of mental-health and addiction services. 

In a news release published today, April 17, the Province has announced that School District 58 Nicola-Similkameen will now join 12 other Integrated Child and Youth (ICY) teams across British Columbia.

According to the release, ICY teams provide mental-health and addiction services to all children and youth up to age 19 and their families residing within the school district boundary. 

The services are also provided to those who attend First Nations operated schools, independent schools, alternative school environments or those not in school.

“Services will be offered by clinical counsellors connected to schools, youth substance-use and mental-health clinicians, Elders or workers supporting Indigenous children and youth, as well as family and youth peer supports,” the release says.

In an interview with the Herald, Jennifer Whiteside, minister of mental health and addictions, said it is critical to invest in children and youth mental health and addiction.

“We know that mental health issues are more likely to arise when people are younger, so that investment in early prevention and early intervention is really key, particularly as we’re coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic,” she said. “We know that the pandemic has increased mental health issues and concerns and anxiety amongst youth.”

Whiteside added the Ministry of Mental Health and Addiction is tracking data from the communities and school districts that already benefit from the ICY teams services.

“We’re tracking the evidence very carefully, because this is a new model of providing access to services for youth. And what we’re learning is that it’s really important for kids to only have to tell their story once,” she added. “What we hear from them is that having to try and navigate a complex system where they may have to go to a bunch of different places is a real barrier.”

Gordon Swan, board chair at SD 58 Nicola-Similkameen, said that the district is very pleased to be selected for an ICY team.

“This program will help ensure the success for all learners in our community and support our innovative educational programs today and into the future,” he said in the release.

According to the release, the Province has committed $55 million to implement ICY teams in 20 school districts by 2024 to be operational by 2025. Seven additional communities will soon be announced and also benefit from these services.