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The Impact and Potential of Regional Integrated Youth Services in NL - Event Recap

Updated: Jun 1, 2023

Integrated Youth Services (IYS) is an international movement that aims to build integrated mental health and substance use supports for youth across Canada. After more than five years of consultation, planning, advocacy, and development, Choices for Youth (CFY) and 65+ partners across Newfoundland and Labrador (NL) are ready to implement an IYS network for the province, building from CFY’s existing IYS site in NL.

To share more about this best practice model and the impact of investing in this model, Choices for Youth hosted "The Impact and Potential of Regional Integrated Youth Services in NL" on April 27, 2023. Approximately 100 representatives from provincial steering committees, Atlantic IYS networks, officials from across Atlantic Canada, and supporters joined CFY staff at the Emera Innovation Exchange (EIX) to envision a new system of service delivery for youth in this province.

The day began with greetings from the Honourable Carolyn Bennett, Minister of Mental Health, and Addiction.

“As we work to improve Canada’s universal health care system, children, youth, and young adults deserve access to the highest quality of mental health and substance use care no matter where they live in Canada. We are committed to ensuring that the national mental health and substance use service standards that are being developed with provinces and territories are grounded in evidence.”

Keynote Featuring Sheldon Pollett and Dr. Jo Henderson

Sheldon Pollett, Executive Director, Choices for Youth started his keynote with an emotional appeal about the need for change in the systems that provide health services to children and youth in NL. He explained that, although the number of young people living in NL is half what it was twenty years ago, the number of young people accessing CFY services is increasing. NL has fewer youth, but a higher percentage of those youth are coming into harm’s way.

While Sheldon acknowledges the challenging situations facing NL’s youth, he points to the fact that IYS provides better outcomes for youth. Approximately 50% of the youth accessing CFY services come from communities outside the St. John’s metro area. An IYS system featuring regional youth service hubs at strategic locations across the province will help address this by allowing youth to remain in their home communities and access services closer to their families and natural supports.

Dr. Jo Henderson, Director of the Margaret and Wallace McCain Centre for Child, Youth & Family Mental Health at The Centre for Addictions and Mental Health (CAMH) and Executive Director of Youth Wellness Hubs Ontario (YWHO) then gave a keynote that built on Sheldon’s address by presenting a model for IYS that is already operating successfully in Canada through YWHO. Dr. Henderson explained that YWHO started with a simple question – how do we build better systems of care for young people? Inspired by the work that grassroots organizations like Choices for Youth were doing across the country, YWHO built a network of service providers, united in the vision that every young person has the right to achieve their best outcomes.

Dr. Henderson asserted that a key element that makes YWHO, and IYS models in general, successful is that it positions youth at the centre, making them an active part of the process of designing the services. Consultations with youth have been very revealing. Youth want to reduce the fragmentation of services – in an ideal world, they want to walk through one door and access all of the services they need. This holistic approach to service delivery is at the core of IYS and will promote more equitable outcomes.

A common thread that both Sheldon and Dr. Henderson touched on is the importance of early and timely access to culturally appropriate services, and the need for early intervention. This thinking challenges the status quo of the existing youth healthcare system, which focuses on crisis response. An IYS system would instead create a network of networks, bolstered by a team that provides backbone supports such as finance, fund development, evaluation, and communications, and united under a common brand and a core set of principles, but flexible enough to leave room for nuance and regional considerations. This system will engage with youth when, where, and how they require services, eliminating physical and systemic barriers and ultimately providing youth with the services they want and deserve.

Panel Discussion and Q&A

The full event was broadcast live on Choices for Youth’s YouTube page. You can view the recording here:

Written by Chris Morris


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