Caring for carers, investing in the mental health of front-line community service workers

March 7, 2023

Charities and non-profits represent one of Canada’s largest economic sectors, employing over 2.5 million highly skilled people, equivalent to 14% of Canadian employees1. The charitable sector contributes 8.3% to Canada’s Gross Domestic Product, which exceeds contributions made by the construction, transportation, and agricultural sectors.

Since the onset of the pandemic, Canada’s human and community service charities and non- profits have mobilized to serve community members at a time of widening inequalities. This sector is comprised of a dedicated women-majority workforce of 591,000 people on the front- lines of supporting mental and physical health, food security, housing stability, and employment readiness. They are delivering critical mental health and substance use health services, quality child care, helping newcomers settle in Canada, and caring for our seniors. They have remained devoted, agile, and willing to do more to ensure community needs are met despite seemingly endless challenges. However, the unprecedented and growing demand on our care economy during this prolonged crisis has taken a toll on those on the mental health of those on the front-lines. It is now time to care for our carers.

As the government looks to advance its recovery agenda, it will be essential to create a permanent Canada Mental Health and Substance Use Health Transfer (Transfer) that earmarks 50% of its funding for community-based mental health and substance use health services to support those in vulnerable circumstances and to embed care that is publicly funded and free to everyone when they need it. As an essential part of this, investing in the mental health and wellness of those that provide services in Budget 2023 is a timely, critical part of a suite of investments to support groups disproportionately impacted by the pandemic. This investment will stabilize a workforce experiencing heightened levels of stress and anxiety while also critical to the delivery of high-quality mental health services. We propose the federal government invest in “Caring for Carers” in Budget 2023 as part of its commitment to create Canada’s first ever, permanent, and ongoing Mental Health Transfer.

Across the country, people and governments turn to trusted community organizations to provide services to cope, connect and recover. Today, high service demand and the complexity of needs exacerbated by the pandemic persists while organizations struggle with underfunding, rising costs, and labour shortages. Across the sector, charities are reporting increasing levels of staff absenteeism, burnout, and mental health challenges. Staff on the front-lines delivering community services are seeking mental health leaves, or resigning, with many leaving the sector entirely for higher paying positions in other sectors. This has resulted in added pressure on the workforce and subsequently on organizational capacity to deliver programs and on governments’ ability to support a resilient, inclusive society and economy.

Investing in the mental health and well-being of Canada’s care economy workforce is necessary to ensure the sector can continue to address complex individual needs and social problems such as poverty, racism, and gender inequality. It is also a critical investment in the sector’s resilience. We propose the Government of Canada implement “Caring for Carers, Investing in the Mental Health of Front-line Community Service Workers” in Budget 2023, as part of the commitment to establish a Canada Mental Health Transfer.

Caring for Carers is a two-year $100 million dollar suite of evidence-based mental health supports for front-line community service workers. Through this investment the Government of Canada will support this dedicated workforce within Canada’s care economy, ensure better outcomes for individuals using services, and stabilize the organizations they work for. It includes three key costed interventions to:

  1. Expand immediate access to mental health and substance use health supports for staff who are currently struggling, with an estimated investment of $45 million.
  1. Fund research on best practices related to clinical supervision and incident debriefing at the agency level, with an estimated investment of $5 million.
  1. Enhance organizational capacity building for Psychologically Healthy and Safe Workplaces through the development of a resource hub and funding for pro-active mental health action plans, with an estimated investment of $50 million.

These interventions will advance the goals of the Transfer by helping to ensure this critical workforce is supported to strengthen their own mental health so they can help bolster a collective recovery from the stress and strain of the pandemic. Caring for Carers is a critical investment in the role of community and human service sector in supporting more equitable, inclusive and resilient communities. This submission is endorsed by 16 prominent national and local organizations. The complete list can be found at the end of the proposal.

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