Remove the need for parental consent to counselling for youth & children in desperate need

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You’ve heard the statistics before.

10-20% of Canadian youth are affected by a mental illness or disorder. Canada’s youth suicide rate is the third highest in the industrialized world. Suicide is among the leading causes of death in 15-24 year old Canadians, second only to accidents. In Canada, only 1 out of 5 children who need mental health services receives them, yet help can make a difference for 80% of people who are affected (The Mental Health Commission of Canada).

Many counsellors work with children and youth who require mental health support due to issues at school, home, or a diagnosed mental illness. However, in Saskatchewan it is near impossible to get a child the professional support they need without parental consent from both parents. This means that in situations where there is a parental argument, neglect, divorce or separation, the child may not be able to access these supports if both parents are not on the same page. The reasoning behind parental consent may be needed in some situations, as not all children are developmentally prepared to understand the role of a counsellor (https://www.ccpa-accp.ca/parental-permission/

As it stands now, the majority of counselling agencies in Saskatchewan require consent from both parents if the situation involves separation/divorce and there is shared/joint custody. In many cases one or both of the parents will deny consent.  Many youth who are in the most desperate need are denied services due to the lack of parental consent (https://www.ccpa-accp.ca/parental-permission/

This would not be the case, however, if the child was taken to the emergency room for a life-threatening condition or to a family Doctor for treatment of a physical issue.  The child would be treated without both parents needing to consent to save a life.  They would not be directed to the court system and told to work it out there.   Why is mental health being treated differently?  

Saskatchewan needs standard policies and laws in place for all counselling agencies that will open the door for all children to access counselling, regardless of parenting arrangements.  Mental health issues can be an emergency and the court system takes too long to access when there is a child's life at risk. 

For a young girl who was willing to receive help, the system couldn’t help her, because of legal constraints. This is the story of my step-daughter Emma, and the reason for my fight to change the system. She deserved better, we need to do better.  Her story didn’t have to end like this. 

For years, I believed that all three of my step-children would benefit from seeing a counsellor to help them make sense of the high conflict divorce of their parents.  In the last few years, we had noticed Emma especially (being a teenager now) was having increased anxiety, staying in her room more, not wanting to talk about her feelings, and running away back to her other parent’s house.  We tried numerous times to set her up with a counsellor but were always told that we needed the consent of both parents for Emma to receive help.  We approached the Children’s Advocate, who were unable to assist, as Saskatchewan does not have any policies or guidelines of best practice when it comes to children of separated/divorced parents.  We were told the only option to get Emma the help she needed was to go to family court, as it is a custody issue, and that the Judge can order the other parent to consent.  We did this, but the Judge refused to hear us, saying that he would not make the other party sign anything at this time (the other party did not have a lawyer yet) so he was adjourning the court date for 10 days.  We tried to plead with him to just make a ruling on the counselling consent, but he refused.  A few days after the Judge adjourned our case, Emma died by suicide.  Would have seeing a counsellor saved Emma’s life?  I don’t know.  But what I do know is that it certainly could have helped, and it definitely would not have hurt her. 

Our children are vulnerable; they need help and as parents, it is our job to ensure they get the help they need.  I do not want this to happen to another child!  Please help me change the system that failed Emma, so that policies are in place for children to have access to counselling which may just save their life!   Please join me in challenging and changing a system that is denying children and youth mental health care.  I will no longer accept the answer that “it’s just how the system is” any longer.  One life lost is one too many. 

*Please note, this petition is not meant to spread hatred, blame or anger towards the other parent or any parent for that matter.  This petition is aimed at the system that failed our family and many others.