The next wave has started, and it is looking like a tsunami, with a lack of resources to respond. The next wave is the increased need for mental health, couple, and family therapy services. Forty-four family service agencies provide these supports across Ontario, typically with minimal wait times. Their unique model of service delivery, which includes walk-in and quick-access clinics, sliding-scale fees, and employee assistance program services, has supported timely access to counselling and psychotherapy.

During any other summer, family service agencies see a decline in service demands. Families are occupied with barbecues, beach days and cottage vacations. This past summer was a different story. The pandemic resulted in an undue stress to the system with growing wait times even during the quiet summer months. Some agencies are reporting double the service demand. In addition to those wanting help to deal with COVID related stress and anxiety, there is a concerning rise in incidents of domestic violence and the request for couple and family therapy has significantly increased. The sector is experiencing unprecedented demand for services. And the worst may be yet to come.

While the need for service has been prevalent in the most marginalized and vulnerable communities, there is an increase in the number of people seeking service who have a higher socio-economic status. These are people with the means to pay for service, who can shop from a market of private therapists, without concern for a waiting list. The increased number of people who want help and can pay, paired with the decreased barriers to enter private practice with virtual therapy, has resulted in therapists leaving the public sector for the private. Public salaries are not able to compete with the private sector, where a starting salary may be half of the potential earnings from a private practice.

Another condition of this storm is the impact of the pandemic on fundraising. Many family service agencies rely on fundraised dollars to augment their government funding and ensure that no one is left behind who needs individual, couple, and/or family therapy. With a decline in these funds, more people will fall through the gaps in care. These are the people who have needs that do not meet the eligibility requirements of our current services, and these are the people who do not have the means to pay for services through benefits or out of pocket.

These are the conditions of this perfect storm. Reduced funds, reduced staffing, and skyrocketing demand. This storm is likely to intensify as families continue to deal with the fallout of COVID-19. There are no easy solutions, but we need to brace ourselves for the impact of this final wave, which will impede the pandemic recovery process. A successful recovery requires that all individuals, couples, and families have the emotional fortitude and solid relationships to overcome the challenges. We cannot build a strong province on a system, where only those with money get access to the help they need, while those most impacted, wait in line for services that may come too late. It is time we ensure no one is left behind.