Alberta is planning to announce a child mental health and wellness panel at noon Thursday.
Premier Jason Kenney made the announcement during a Facebook live Q and A Wednesday evening, saying the panel will be co-chaired by Calgary-South East MLA Matt Jones. The panel will look at how various COVID-19 public health measures have affected children throughout the pandemic.
“Thisisactually(Jones’)brainchild, his idea,becauseofhisconcern,whichweallshare,aboutthementalhealthimplicationsforchildrencopingwithallofthisstress,” said Kenney. “Schools being open and then closed and economic pressure that their parents are living under, being detached from their friends and their broader families. We know that it’s had a real impact on children.”
Young Albertans have had to navigate varying restrictions throughout the pandemic as students have switched between online and in-person learning on several occasions. Children’s sports and recreation as well as theatre and choir activities have also had been placed under various restrictions throughout the past 14 months.
Kenney’s Facebook Live was held the same day he announced the province’s plan to remove public health measures. It has three stages with most public health measures removed when 70 per cent of eligible Albertans have received their first dose of vaccine.
The premier’s Q and A largely focused on COVID-19 and the recently released plan. However, Kenney addressed questions on a number of topics during the roughly 90-minute stream.
Initially responding to a question about his government plans to address children’s mental health, the premier appeared unsure of whether the panel had already been announced or if such an announcement was forthcoming. He later stated that he had “scooped himself” and said it would be unveiled Thursday.
Requests for further comment from government representatives were not returned Wednesday evening.
NDP education critic Sarah Hoffman said in a statement Wednesday that Kenney failed to keep students, staff and family members safe in schools during the pandemic.
“I hope this new panel is empowered to investigate Jason Kenney’s failure to keep students, staff and families safe in schools,” said Hoffman. “We don’t need another UCP panel to know that the harm to students’ physical and mental health has been severe.”
A survey released last December by the Alberta Teachers’ Association found that 73 per cent of respondents were worried about their students’ mental health.
In April 2020, the government announced a $53-million COVID-19 mental health action plan that aimed to increase access to services within the province. That earmarked $21.4 million for improving the capacity of telephone and online supports, including the Addiction Helpline, the Mental Health Helpline, the Kids Help Phone, the Crisis Text Line Alberta, and Alberta 211.