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A preliminary investigation of wait times for child and adolescent mental health services in Canada.

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University of Calgary, Calgary, Alberta.



THE OBJECTIVES OF THIS STUDY WERE TO: 1) describe wait times at agencies providing child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS) in Canada; and 2) determine whether agency and waiting list characteristics are associated with wait times for different clinical priority levels.


A web-based survey was distributed to 379 agencies providing CAMHS in Canada. The survey contained questions about agency characteristics, waiting list characteristics and agency wait times. Pearson's correlations were used to determine the bivariate relationship between agency and waiting list characteristics and wait times.


The response rate was 30.6% (n=116). Only 8.6% of agencies reported no waiting lists for their programs or services. Estimated mean wait times for initial assessment decreased with increasing levels of clinical priority. However, the ranges of wait times at each clinical priority level were substantial. In addition, only 31.4% of agencies reported being "mostly" or "always" able to meet the Canadian Psychiatric Association's wait time benchmark for scheduled care for psychiatric services. Wait times were positively correlated with size of the waiting list for those considered at lower clinical priority.


The findings confirm concerns about the prevalence of wait times for CAMHS in Canada, and also note marked variability. Though shorter wait times for higher priority children and youth is appropriate, current practice does not meet proposed standards of care as they relate to wait times. Future research should determine the impact of service reform efforts on reducing wait times for children with differing clinical priority levels.


adolescent; child; mental health services; waiting lists


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