Voices that matter: Sudbury event shares knowledge about transition age youth

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November 28, 2016

Youth with complex mental health and addictions needs often require continued access to care when they move to adult services. Without the appropriate information or support, these individuals may not receive the right services, or risk dropping out altogether. In fact, 60 per cent of youth disengage from services during this transitional period.

The Provincial System Support Program (PSSP) at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) and the North East Local Health Integration Network (NE LHIN) recently co-hosted a one-day knowledge exchange event focused on improving systems and services for transition age youth in Ontario. On November 9th, over 80 service providers, system planners, CAMH staff, youth, and justice professionals came together in Sudbury to share their experiences and lessons.

“As a system planner, it was great to work in collaboration with so many innovative partners and thinkers,” said Shana Calixte, Mental Health and Addictions Lead for NE LHIN and co-MC of the event.

The event brought together some of the leading experts in the field with keynote sessions from Drs. Ian Manion, Director of Youth Mental Health Research at the Institute for Mental Health Research and Joanna Henderson, Director of the McCain Centre; an expert youth panel; a story telling session with 2016 Vern Harper award recipient, John Rice; Service Collaborative case studies by PSSP staff Céleste LalondeAlexandra HarrisonChris Sullivan and Sandra Watson; and a “fireside chat” with Dr. Aristotle Voineskos, Director of the Slaight CentreDr. Javeed Sukhera, Senior Designate Physician Lead for Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at London Health Science Centre, and Dr. Chiachen Cheng, Medical Director of First Place Clinic and Regional Resource Centre.

The issues faced by Ontario’s transition age youth, or young people aged 15-25, have received significant attention of late. Some challenges can include stigma, difficulty locating access to care, age mandates, overburdened specialty youth services, and a lack of meaningful youth and family engagement.

“We can’t hit pause on the system while we fix it,” said Dr. Manion. “We have to make changes while we keep doing work. It’s a very complicated thing to do.”

Meaningful engagement of transition age youth

Meaningful engagement of transition age youth in system transformation was a central theme throughout the day. A panel of four youth experts with lived experience addressed the crowd.

“It’s important to remember that it’s not one size fits all and that it’s important to take an individual person’s need into consideration, rather than taking ‘youth’ as a blanket term that defines everyone in that age group,” said Scarlett Davidson, youth panelist and psychology student. “Today is also really about helping to ensure that adults hear our experiences, and are advocating for us and our needs.”


Speakers Kenneth Bomberry, also known by his traditional name Tehatyaronkwas, Scarlett Davidson, Joshua Miller and moderator Vincent Bolt share important messages at the Transition Age Youth knowledge exchange event in Sudbury ON.

For their courage and strength, the youth panel received a standing ovation.

“I was most inspired by the youth who were speaking authentically about their experiences, and taking the time to share their ideas on how we can make our system speak more directly to the care needed for transition age youth,” said Calixte.

This year’s Vern Harper award recipient John Rice had a similar message when he shared a traditional Miikaans teaching, which follows the spirit journey from the Creator, through life and back to the Creator.

“Very early on in life, you are seen and you are heard. We call that Anishinaabe psychology,” said Rice. His presentation emphasized the importance of storytelling in healing and system improvement.


2016 Vern Harper award recipient, John Rice, Traditional Healer at the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) of Simcoe County, opens his session with a spirit travelling song about transition between lives.

Working together: Considerations for better systems

As the day progressed, attendees explored other areas and system improvements, drilling down on some key issues and the need to unite efforts and resources.

The fragmentation of services, for example, makes it difficult for young people to find and engage with the right services for their unique needs. In some instances where funding is limited, some agencies may become protective of their resources – to the detriment of youth and their families.

“For youth it’s like being in a long, dark hallway, but instead of open doors, it’s doors with peepholes you look in and they say, ‘hmm well you don’t fit our inclusion criteria, can’t help you’,” said Dr. Sukhera.  “Until we decide as a community, no matter what group you belong to, and speak up and say that the current state of mental health and addictions in Ontario is not acceptable, nothing will move forward.”

A willingness to unite is a step in the right direction; however, building relationships, a shared approach, shifting mandates and implementing potentially new ways of working require a specific, concentrated effort.

In that vein, PSSP staff shared concrete examples from the Kingston, Frontenac, Lennox & Addington, and Sudbury-Manitoulin Service Collaboratives. Both Service Collaboratives had to address a number of system challenges such as different care philosophies, communication, coordination, funding and age mandates. With the help of implementation support by PSSP’s Regional teams they were able to successfully design and implement evidence-informed interventions for transition age youth.

“Collectively we have learned that building, nurturing and supporting relationship development and maintenance between and among service providers from the key sectors is paramount,” said Chris Sullivan, PSSP Regional Implementation Coordinator in Kingston. “We also learned that design and implementation will take time, sometimes longer than anticipated. We have to respect where all of the agencies are at.”

A third case from the Simcoe-Muskoka Service Collaborative demonstrated that throughout the implementation journey it’s critical to identify and embed processes that support health equity. This can help to ensure that equity-seeking youth are able to fully benefit from the intervention or practice.

Youth panelist Joshua Miller seemed to sum up the spirit of the day when he referenced his work at the McCain Centre as a Youth Engagement Facilitator: “I have a voice there and I know it matters.”

An earlier version of this story first appeared on CAMH.ca.


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