What is the system challenge?

About 65-70% of youth who come into contact with the justice system have one or more mental health challenges. Developmental disorders, intellectual disabilities, acquired brain injury, and fetal alcohol spectrum disorder are also over-represented in this population. Many of these challenges go unrecognized among justice-involved youth (1). These challenges can be associated with school difficulties, unemployment, incarceration, and poverty. Early identification and intervention can help prevent some of these negative outcomes and lessen long term disability (2). However, in many communities, there is no consistent approach for identifying the needs of youth in the court system.

[1] Shufelt, J.S. & Cocozza, J.C. (2006). Youth with mental health disorders in the juvenile justice system: Results from a multistate, multi-system prevalence study. Delmar, NY: National Center for Mental Health and Juvenile Justice.

[2] The President's New Freedom Commission on Mental Health. (2003) Achieving the Promise: Transforming Mental Health Care in America. 

What are we doing about it?

A coordinated, cross-sector approach to early identification and intervention can help youth and their families receive the services and supports that best meet their needs.[i] System stakeholders in Niagara identified a need for this type of approach to improve support for youth in the court system. They also saw the need for a dedicated youth court to better align with the Youth Criminal Justice Act. To address these needs, they developed the Niagara Youth Court Screening Initiative (NYCSI). NYCSI supports early identification of mental health, addictions and other challenges among youth and helps them access appropriate services. In addition, the team developed a database that, without collecting identifying information (such as names), collects basic information about the types of youth seen in court as well as their self-identified needs. 

[i] Stroul, B. (2002). Issue Brief—System of care: A framework for system reform in children’s mental health. Washington, DC: Georgetown University Child Development Center, National Technical Assistance Center for Children’s Mental Health. 

?What's this?

Full Implementation

NYCSI was implemented by the Niagara Youth Justice Service Collaborative with help from the Provincial System Support Program at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. The youth court takes place in St. Catharines twice a month. All First Appearance youth are invited to participate in the screening process.

The Youth didn't just appear in front of the court that day. There is a story involved. The screening team is really important in developing an understanding of that story.

— Niagara Service Provider

29 youth courts held between when NYCSI started in May 2015 and July 2016

81 of 100 eligible first-appearance youth screened by NYCSI screening team

Approximately 80% of youth screened were identified as having possible mental health and/or addictions challenges.

Who is involved?

The Collaborative consists of approximately 30 active members from the justice, education, health, Aboriginal services, child welfare, mental health, and addiction sectors.

The Collaborative consists of approximately 30 active members from the justice, education, health, Aboriginal services, child welfare, mental health, and addiction sectors.

Screening Team members:

  • Pathstone - Early Intervention Program
  • Niagara Chapter Native Women Inc.
  • Youth Resources Niagara
  • Youth Probation
  • Port Cares - Extrajudicial Sanctions
  • Pathstone - Extrajudicial Sanctions
  • YMCA Problem Gambling Program

Screening Team supports:

  • Niagara North Crown Office
  • Legal Aid - Duty Counsel

Next Steps

An Advisory Team is providing ongoing oversight to the NYCSI. This team reflects on processes and opportunities for improvement for the intervention. "We are constantly making revisions based on different cases, feedback and what we've found." NYCSI Screening Team Member

Based on the success of the intervention in St. Catharines, the Collaborative is beginning to explore implementation of a similar process in Welland, Ontario. There is also significant interest from across the province about the intervention and the implementation process.

The feedback we are getting on the novel concept and process that we are doing makes us very proud


For more information, please contact

Marla Banning, Regional Implementation Coordinator