Participants in the child wellness round table discuss issues and potential solutions during the Oceanside Health and Wellness Network’s forum at the Qualicum Beach Civic Centre Nov. 9, 2017. — Photo submitted by OHWN

Child poverty a ‘hidden issue’ in Parksville Qualicum Beach

Health and wellness forum addresses hunger, mental health

The Oceanside Health and Wellness Network describes childhood poverty in the Parksville Qualicum Beach region as a “hidden issue,” and vowed to bring it into the light during a community forum held Nov. 9 at the Qualicum Beach Civic Centre.

The forum, called Charting the Course Together for Health and Wellness in Oceanside, drew more than 50 community leaders to to learn more about and collectively work on, complex health issues in the area.

Gerry Herkel, lead for OHWN’s Child Wellness Action Group, informed attendees that the child poverty rate in Oceanside is an alarming 30 per cent, and that many families are unable to provide healthy and sufficient food for their children.

“This is a hidden issue in Oceanside; most people are surprised to know that one in three children are in poverty,” said Herkel. “Increasing access to food in schools and community will take the financial burden off families and ensure children are nourished and able to learn and thrive.”

Qualicum Beach Mayor Teunis Westbroek said he has been thinking about ways to reduce hunger in the region.

“We have a zero-waste goal in our region,” said Westbroek. “We must also work passionately towards a zero child hunger goal.”

The other major area of concern addressed at the forum was mental illness, particularly its impacts — direct and indirect — on children and youth.

“One in five Canadians will experience mental illness in their lifetime, but five in five will be affected through family, friends and community members,” said Jason Harrison, executive director of the Canadian Mental Health Association and co-lead of OHWN’s Mental Health Action Group.

During his presentation on mental health statistics in the Parksville Qualicum Beach region, Harrison went on to shine the light on the extra challenges facing children and youth.

“Three out of every four children in B.C. diagnosed with a mental health condition are not receiving the services they need,” he said. “In Oceanside, the demand is increasing and we are seeing long wait lists for young adults seeking services. We are also seeing increased hospitalization of youth due to mental health issues, from eight per cent in 2013 to 13 per cent in 2015.”

The OHWN is now in the process of engaging the community about the urgent need to scale up efforts and take collective action to address mental health and food security for young people in the area, said Sharon Welch, OHWN chair. Among other factors, a healthy community includes appropriate prevention services and ongoing support for people living with mental health issues, and access to safe, affordable and healthy food for children and their families, she said.

“We have to step out of our silos,” said Welch, who is also executive director of Forward House Society. “It takes a community to come together — community service agencies, government, health care and individuals — to identify common goals and work toward shared outcomes. This is really the only way to make a significant impact on complex health and social issues.”

OHWN presented some of its findings and ideas from the community forum to the Regional District of Nanaimo at its Nov. 14 board meeting, and will continue to share with other municipalities and service organizations.

To move the discussion from the idea to the action stage,

OHWN has scheduled a second, larger community forum on Feb. 22, 2018, in Parksville. That forum will focus on identifying and implementing collective actions to address the priority issues of food security for children and mental health for young adults, said Brenda Kent, OHWN co-ordinator, in a written release.

For more information and to join the Oceanside Health and Wellness Network, visit www.rdn.bc.ca/ohwn or contact Brenda Kent at info.ohwn@gmail.com or 250-228-0513.

— NEWS staff and OHWN submission

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