Ontario government earmarks $40M for more mental health workers in high schools


Ontario is boosting supports for student mental health by $40 million as the province mourns the fatal stabbing of a bullied Hamilton high school boy.

The money — which was in the works before Monday's tragic killing — will help Ontario's 73 school boards "permanently" hire another 180 social workers, psychologists and psychotherapists, easing wait lists for assistance, Education Minister Stephen Lecce said Thursday.

It will also fund more mental health programs, training for principals and vice-principals in "de-escalating" incidents of bullying, and give an additional $1 million to the Kids Help Phone service, which provides a 24-hour hotline and text counselling service for children in distress.

Lecce voiced his condolences to the family of 14-year-old Devan Bracci-Selvey, and particularly to his mother Shari-Ann Selvey, who said through tears "everyone failed my son" after revealing she had reported the harassment of her son to Sir Winston Churchill Secondary School.

"This family feels like the system has failed," Lecce added at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health on Queen St. W. "Today is a recognition we have so much more we must do."

Lecce said he will wait for the results of investigations by Hamilton police and the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board to "find where the gaps existed" and to glean "lessons learned" before deciding if any further action is warranted.

He called bullying "a heinous form of brutality," said he has phoned the school board's chair about the fatal attack outside the school and will be talking to the school's principal "in the coming days."

Two males, one 14 and the other 18, have been charged with first-degree murder. The 14-year-old, whom police accused Thursday of wielding the knife in the stabbing, cannot be identified under the Youth Criminal Justice Act. The 18-year-old's name is the subject of a court-ordered publication ban.

The $40 million doubles what the provincial government spent on student mental health two years ago and should "better prepare those people on the front lines" such as teachers and principals into handling troublesome situations and speed "early intervention and assessment," Lecce said.

"Too many students are struggling with their mental health and well being," he added, noting 70 per cent of mental health and addiction problems begin in the teen years.