Why I'm Glad The CAMH Gender Identity Clinic Is Closing

There are many reason why CAMH should close and reopen their gender identity clinic for children

In December Toronto’s Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) announced that after an independent review, their gender identity services for children and youth would be “winding down”. The clinic, which operated for close to 40 years, was found to be out-of-date with current best practices regarding children and gender identity. Their plans after winding down the clinic are to research current best practices, consult with community members and plan for the future.

At the forefront of the recommendations the review made was to take an approach that will “reduce suffering” while being “client-centred and family supported.” The recommendations also included liaising with schools around supporting children and youth, and providing education, information, support—rather than pathologizing and steering the direction of children’s gender identities. For many who had long criticized the clinic—academics, social workers, former clients and others working in healthcare among them—the closing of the clinic has been applauded as a victory.

The clinic’s closure itself has been the focus of much of the response, leaving the future of CAMH’s services in this area largely under-discussed. Here are some reasons that we should be focussing on the future:

CAMH has resources

While closing the clinic forced CAMH to walk away from a large research grant, in comparison to many of the community-based services serving trans and gender variant children and youth, CAMH has more funding, more space and in many ways more capacity. These resources could go a long way once they’re being put to the right use.

CAMH can set an example for others

Because CAMH is such a “big player,” willingness to make change is major and can set an example for others providing services. While it is the biggest service provider of its sort, it is by no means the only. Having CAMH change their approach could encourage other outdated service providers to do the same.

More services are needed

Presumably, after the necessary research and consultations are done, a version of the clinic will re-open. At present, there are not enough services to meet the needs of those looking for them. Sick Kids Hospital runs the Transgender Youth Clinic, a well-regarded and newer clinic—also in Toronto—but nonetheless, there are waiting lists for services even in the few locations that exist, and children and parents waiting longer than need be to be seen.

Putting a spotlight on the value of community consultation

In the report on moving forward, CAMH emphasized the importance of consulting with various sectors as well as clients and their families. Not only has the change been brought on by input from the community, but services will be formed to meet the actual needs of those being served. Having institutions, organizations and clients working together with a common approach will provide clients and their families with the support they need and highlight the value of this practice.

The positive implications for gender independent children, and all children

When services for gender-questioning children and youth are discussed, it’s often as a debate between whether to encourage children to transition genders versus encouraging children to conform to the expectations of the gender they were born. Rainbow Health Ontario—a research team working on issues pertaining to LGBT clinical practice—says that actually, determining a child’s gender or future gender is not and should not be the focus, but that letting children “explore gender without judgment and with clear and unequivocal support” is.

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