What was the system challenge?

Trauma experiences are now known to be far more common than previously thought. Youth justice populations report higher rates of trauma exposure than the general population (Wolpaw & Ford, 2004). Indigenous populations are also found to have higher rates of trauma exposure than the general population (Northwest LHIN, 2009). The Indigenous population in Kenora and Rainy River districts respectively are 36% and 22% of the total population, compared to 2% for the province of Ontario (Statistics Canada, 2013a, 2013b, & 2013c). Further, male FNIM youth in Ontario are incarcerated at a rate that is five times higher than the general youth population, and FNIM females at a rate that is ten times higher (Rankin & Winsa, 2013). The high percentage of FNIM youth in the region coupled with the overrepresentation of FNIM youth in the justice system, suggests that many justice-involved individuals in the region will have experienced trauma.

A shift towards a more trauma-informed youth justice system allows system partners to develop common trauma-informed processes, practices, and policies. For service providers, the anticipated outcomes include an increased number of appropriate mental health and addictions referrals, improved communication among service providers, increased service collaboration, improved continuity of care, and improved trauma recognition and response. For youth and families, anticipated long-term outcomes include improved behavioural and mental health, decreased substance use, decreased contact with the justice system, decreased severity of youth justice incidents, and increased overall well-being. At the system level, the projected outcomes of a more-trauma informed approach are reduced pressure and financial strain on human service systems and reduced victimization. System partners will need to take a coordinated collaborative approach to system education, training, and funding proposals. The intent of these efforts is to influence policy and practice change at the agency, system, and ultimately, the provincial government level, and act as a catalyst for a paradigm shift in the approach to youth justice.

What did we do about it

A more trauma-informed youth justice system:

The goal of the Service Collaborative was to transition to a more trauma-informed youth justice system over the next five years. A more trauma-informed youth justice system would support:

  • Education and training in trauma-informed practice;
  • Cross-sectoral training groups – Indigenous, mainstream, frontline, management;
  • Common language and approaches between agencies and sectors;
  • The capacity of organizations and individuals to recognize and support justice-involved youth exhibiting trauma exposure response;
  • The capacity of organizations and individuals to recognize and support youth justice system workers exhibiting trauma exposure response;
  • Improved self-care for trauma-exposed workers within the system.

Improved cultural awareness:

Another goal of the Service Collaborative was to ensure that all providers are knowledgeable about the history of colonization, and the direct and inter-generational impacts it has had on indigenous populations. Service providers can support justice-involved indigenous youth by:

  • Acknowledging and recognizing the cultural, historical, and inter-generational trauma experienced by many Indigenous individuals and communities;
  • Improving their capacity to support traditional ways of knowing and forms of healing, while also recognizing that the choice to engage in traditional ways rests with the individual;
  • Embracing the “two-eyed seeing” or “double understanding” model, where different healing approaches are seen as complimentary and parallel, and each explored to respond to individual needs;
  • Increasing their ability to be culturally competent in their practice;
  • Being aware that many workplace practices and tools have not been culturally-adapted for Indigenous populations;
  • Recognizing that healing is individual and people must be able to guide their own healing journeys.

Universal screening (GAIN-SS – CAMH-modified version):

Many Service Collaborative agencies signed on to a 5-year group licence for use of the Global Appraisal of Individual Needs - Short Screener CAMH-Modified Version (GAIN-SS). Use of the GAIN-SS by as many agencies as possible in the system will result in:

  • Consistency in screening across sectors;
  • Screening results that can be shared among agencies with appropriate consent to reduce the need for multiple screenings of individual clients;
  • A common screening tool that can be used as a measure over time;
  • More appropriate referrals made using a valid, reliable screener;
  • Screening for cognitive impairments.

Improved system navigation and referrals:

A Youth Justice and Mental Health and Addictions Systems Map was developed and launched for the Kenora area, and agencies were encouraged to use the Inter-Agency Referral Form. The navigation map and referral form are an important part of the protocol because:

  • The map outlines where justice and mental health and addictions sectors intersect;
  • It identifies intersection points and local services available at each point;
  • There is a description of services and agency contact information on back of map to assist service providers and youth and families with system navigation;
  • Those agencies providing cultural services will be highlighted;
  • The map will be available to agencies and court staff who work with justice-involved youth and mirror an adult-system map for consistency;
  • The existing referral form will be amended to ensure appropriate referrals are made to youth mental health, addictions, and justice services;
  • A common referral form will create a common pathway to care for justice-involved youth.

Who was involved?

  • Anishinaabe Abinooji Family Services
  • Canadian Mental Health Association, Fort Frances Branch
  • Canadian Mental Health Association, Kenora Branch
  • Changes Recovery Home
  • Crown Attorney’s Office, Ministry of Attorney General
  • Ge-Da-Gi-Binez Youth Centre
  • Gizhewaadiziwin Health Access Centre
  • Keewatin Patricia District School Board
  • Kenora Association for Community Living
  • Kenora Chiefs Advisory
  • Kenora Catholic District School Board
  • Kenora Rainy River District Child and Family Services
  • Lake of the Woods District Hospital, Mental Health and Addictions Programs
  • Métis Nation of Ontario
  • Ne-Chee Friendship Centre
  • Ontario Provincial Police, Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services
  • Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre, Youth Forensics Program
  • Victim Witness Services, Ministry of the Attorney General
  • William W. Creighton Youth Services
  • WJS Canada
  • Youth Justice (Probation), Ministry of Child and Youth Services


Additional resources:

Canadian Mental Health Association Kenora's Resources

Video: Justice Service Collaboratives in Ontario

Video: Trauma-informed justice in Aboriginal populations


Rankin, J. and Winsa, P. (2013b, March 3). Unequal justice: Aboriginals caught in the justice system trap. The Star.Com.

Wolpaw, J. W. and Ford, J. D. (2004). Assessing exposure to psychological trauma and post-traumatic stress in the juvenile justice population. Report of the National Child Traumatic Stress Network Juvenile Justice Working Group.

Final Report

PSSP's involvement in the KRRYJSC wrapped up in 2020 with the completion of the Kenora-Rainy River Youth Justice Service Collaborative Story and Sustainability Report (below).

For more information, please contact:

Erin Dunn - Programmatic Manager