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BC families call for better health care for kids in crisis

Amanda Todd's mother and a group of parents have met with Health Minister Margaret MacDiarmid in an attempt to push the Liberal government to improve crisis care for British Columbia's children -- and ultimately prevent further tragedies.

The girl's heart-wrenching video about the bullying and cyber-stalking she experienced was seen worldwide, and her subsequent suicide last fall sparked a nationwide effort to support anti-bullying causes.

"We were able to tell our stories out there," said Carol Todd on Tuesday. "We don't have many successes, and, of course, I come with a tragic story.

"People shared their problems, frustrations and I was actually pleased to see the minister and her fellow colleagues from other ministries listen and share concrete things that they would look at for the future of youth mental health."

The parents presented MacDiarmid with a petition signed by 36,000 people calling for improvements to emergency care for children in crisis at provincial hospitals.

The families want MacDiarmid to make changes in emergency rooms that ensure psychiatrists and not physicians make decisions on whether to admit a child to care. Parents must also be included in the decision-making process, the families said.

Todd said children shouldn't face long wait-lists and gaps in care.

"It should be all standardized in terms of how we speak, what we hear, so our frustrations are less, so we don't lose any more kids," she said.

Among the parents at the closed-door meeting with MacDiarmid were Kelly and Owen Bradley whose 11-year-old daughter was sent home from Victoria General Hospital's emergency department earlier this year despite being in mental distress.

The daughter, who has been diagnosed with a bipolar disorder, ended up on a long waiting list for a 13-bed, child-and-youth treatment centre in Greater Victoria.

Kelly Bradley, who believes emergency services for children puts kids like her daughter at risk, said she was encouraged by the meeting with MacDiarmid.

"I feel we were heard," she said. "The health minister acknowledged that there's some huge gaps and a huge need for improvement."

Bradley said the parents and minister discussed how they could find ways to ensure child psychiatrists are on hand to help with decisions that involve admitting a child in distress to hospital.

Currently, at many hospital the admitting decisions are made by emergency doctors on duty. Bradley said the parents also stressed they be included in the decision-making process involving their children.

MacDiarmid said the ministry has been working on a more uniform process that ensures all emergency rooms and health-care workers have provincewide guidelines to help deal with children in mental distress.

She said she would want parents involved in those decisions but could not guarantee a child psychiatrist would be available at every hospital across B.C.

MacDiarmid said she wants hospitals to have access to child psychiatrists, if not in person then through the telephone or Internet, in crisis situations.

"In terms of exactly how it's going to look, the firm commitment we made is that when the standards are developed, which I think will be fairly soon, we would talk with the families again," said MacDiarmid. "In other words, their voice is important for us."

Dirk Meissner reports for the Canadian Press.

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