Children of Canadian soldiers posted to battle in Afghanistan are increasingly suffering from war-related anxiety and other such psychological disorders, say concerned experts.
Ontario's ombudsman Andre Marin had undertaken a recent investigation into the matter. It was seen that a center for treatment of such traumatized children was caught in a mire of poor funding due to government bodies unwilling to take financial responsibilities.
Mr. Marin's investigation into what he names a "crisis" situation at CFB Petawawa, found that the Phoenix Center for Children and Families, which provides mental health services in the region, was sorely in need of funding and staff required to help the community cope with a tenfold increase in cases of war-related anxiety and psychological problems, among soldiers' families. According to Marin, it is the province's responsibility, and not the federal government's, to help these children.
"These children are the collateral damage of the war we have asked their parents to fight. We can and should be doing more for them" Marin was quoted.
The Phoenix Center's last request for $536,250 over two years was initially turned down by the Ministry of Children and Youth Services, which urged the center to seek federal government help instead, stating that the children's problems were the result of a federal military commitment.
The probe also found that children across Ontario are enduring long waits for mental health services, which in turn were competing for slivers of a small funding pie.
Says Marin: "There was no provision for dealing with a crisis situation like Petawawa's, where 16 members of the community have been killed and 80 wounded in Afghanistan since last summer - and every child of a soldier lives with the fear that his or her parent could be next.
"One mental health professional likened it to a tornado hitting the community several times a week."
Marin has made three recommendations to the province: That it immediately fund children's mental health services through the Phoenix Center, that it ensure long-term support for the children of military personnel in consultation with the federal government, and that it provide the Ombudsman with monthly progress reports.
Responding to the Ombudsman's recommendations, the government immediately announced a $2-million emergency fund to provide children's mental health support for communities in crisis such as Petawawa, and committed to providing the Phoenix Center with the budget required to meet military families' counseling needs. It has also entered into discussions with federal National Defense representatives, and agreed to report back to the Ombudsman.
The investigation, launched March 1, was conducted by the Special Ombudsman Response Team (SORT), which interviewed more than 20 key stakeholders, including soldiers' families, base personnel, and Phoenix Center staff, as well as officials at the Ministry of Children and Youth Services and at the federal departments of National Defence, Health and Human Resources and Social Development. The team also examined how mental health services are funded for children on military bases in other provinces.