Children's mental health threatened by federal cuts to refugee health coverage / by IMAGINE Clinic

Following cuts to the Interim Federal Health (IFH) program in 2012, refugee claimants across Canada lost most of the medical coverage they were previously afforded, including all medical screenings, vision and dental care, medication coverage and psychiatric care (1). Children are among the most vulnerable groups to be affected by this drastic loss of health care access, and in particular, the loss of access to much needed psychological counselling, psychotherapy and prescription medications. 

Over half of all refugees seeking asylum in Canada reside in Ontario (2), a large proportion of which include dependent spouses and children. While it is known that child refugees have an especially high risk of developing mental health conditions due to the traumatic experiences associated with their country of origin and precarious status (3), the IFH program has ceased coverage of all mental health care to both refused refugee claimants and refugees from ‘Designated Countries of Origin’ (DCO) (4). 

While a number of health care programs, including the IMAGINE Clinic, provide voluntary care for refugee patients regardless of their official status, there continues to be a severe deficit of mental health professionals available to uninsured refugees and an even greater lack of those who specialize in paediatric and youth mental health. Without access to proper care, health professionals fear many of these children will suffer from avoidable long-term mental health conditions ranging from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) to developmental delay (5).

1. Canadian Council for Refugees. (February, 2013). Refugee Health Care: Impacts of recent cuts. Retrieved from http://ccrweb.ca/files/ifhreporten.pdf

2. Citizenship and Immigration Canada. (2012, March). Refugees Landed in Canada: Findings from the Longitudinal Immigration Database (IMDB). Retrieved from http://www.cic.gc.ca/english/pdf/pub/imdb/LCR_3.pdf

3. Fazel, M. & Stein, A. (July 2002). Community child health, public health, and epidemiology: The mental health of refugee children. Arch Dis Child 87:5, 366-370. Retrieved from http://adc.bmj.com/content/87/5/366.full#ref-list-1

4. Citizenship and Immigration Canada. (June, 2013). Designated Countries of Origin. Retrieved from http://www.cic.gc.ca/english/refugees/reform-safe.asp

5. Samson, L. & Hui, Charles. (June, 2012). Cuts to refugee health program put children and youth at risk. Retrieved from http://www.cps.ca/advocacy/CPS_RefugeeHealth.pdf