CMHA Ontario continues to play a role in the ongoing development of Legal Aid Ontario’s (LAO) Mental Health Strategy, hosting two recent consultation sessions that garnered input from key stakeholder groups. The first consultation in late January was with members of the Provincial Human Services and Justice Coordinating Committee (HSJCC) and the second consultation in early February was with CMHA Ontario branch staff including executive directors, court services managers, case managers, court support workers, and justice program coordinators. The consultations were lead by Ryan Fritsch, policy counsel at LAO who is spearheading the development of the strategy.
The Provincial HSJCC gave the following feedback on the strategy:
- Training should be offered for lawyers on mental health issues, available mental health services, and supportive practice techniques to be adopted when working with a client that has a mental health issue. LAO employees could be invited to Local HSJCCs to develop local training programs.
Clients with mental health issues would benefit from having a multidisciplinary team of lawyers and mental health workers.
- Clients with mental health issues would benefit from having a consistent legal aid lawyer or a multidisciplinary team of lawyers and mental health workers, including social workers and case managers, who are familiar with the client’s case.
- Clients with mental health issues should be provided with guidance to navigate the justice and mental health systems from the beginning of their encounter with legal aid staff. The point of first contact and an individual to guide them through the system does not need to be a lawyer but could be a case manager or social worker.
The Provincial HSJCC is expected to provide a formal submission to the LAO Mental Health Strategy by the end of March. For more information on the HSJCC, please visit its website.
CMHA Ontario branches had similar feedback:
- Provide longer legal certificates and proper compensation for lawyers working with an individual with mental health issues to ensure consistency. This is especially important for clients who are frequently criminalized and come into contact with the justice system on a regular basis.
- Improve client access to and coordination of mental health diversion services by educating lawyers, crowns and duty counsel on what is available in the community.
- Expand the eligibility for people with mental health issues to qualify for legal representation especially, for example, clients who qualify for diversion but who are not facing jail time. Also, provide on-site access to multiple legal services including refugee/immigration and family law information for clients with intersecting legal needs.
- Develop a needs assessment for high needs mental health clients that can be used by non-clinicians, including lawyers, crowns and duty counsel, to help identify individuals that could benefit from mental health services.
If you would like to participate in the LAO consultation process in person, Fritsch will be in Kenora and Thunder Bay for local consultations on February 13 and 14, 2014 respectively. He will also be in Sudbury on February 19, 2014. For more information, visit the Events section of the Mental Health Strategy webpage here. Please RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org if you are planning to attend. You can also click here to submit your feedback electronically to Legal Aid Ontario by February 28, 2014.
If you are a member of the HSJCC Network or a CMHA Ontario branch staff person and would like to provide additional written feedback on LAO’s Mental Health Strategy, please email Dorina Simeonov at email@example.com.