What is the system challenge?

Experiencing trauma in the first 18 years of life has been demonstrated to have significant impact on adolescent and adult medical and psychiatric disease, sexual behaviour, healthcare costs and life expectancy. Up to 90 percent of youth who come into contact with the law have experienced trauma at some point in their lives.

First Nations, Metis, and Inuit populations are overrepresented in the youth justice system, and are particularly vulnerable to the intergenerational trauma caused colonization, past government policy, the residential schools system, and other culturally specific traumas.

The Kenora-Rainy River Youth Justice Collaborative in Northwestern Ontario identified a need to promote a more inclusive youth justice system by improve screening and system navigation, as well as training in trauma-informed practice to meet the needs of justice-involved youth up to age 17, and reduce recurring involvement with the justice system.

What are we doing about it?

The Kenora-Rainy River Youth Justice Collaborative with support from the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health’s Provincial System Support Program focused its system-improvement efforts on developing a more trauma-informed youth justice system that moves away from a system that places blame on the individual, with preconceived notions of “What is wrong with you?” to a more receptive approach of “What has happened to you?” The Justice Collaborative accomplished these goals by:

  • providing a deputation to town council explaining the issues, providing a solution, and delivering a plan to improve the system; 
  • offering trauma-informed training and education for all service providers who come into contact with youth and their families;
  • adopting a common screening tool, the Global Appraisal of Individual Needs–Short Screener (GAIN-SS), for mental health and addictions issues; and by
  • creating a system navigation map for service providers such as court staff and attorneys, and the youth and their families. The map will include information on youth agency services and their mandates to help increase referrals to appropriate services.

To meet these goals, the Justice Collaborative created the Trauma-informed Agency Protocol to guide organizations that provide youth justice services. By signing the Protocol, organizations committed to:

  • transitioning to a more trauma-informed approach; and
  • ensuring accountability and consistency in approaches to interacting with youth in the justice system.

The Protocol commits organizations to the process of transitioning to a more trauma-informed youth justice system using education, training, screening, navigation, and referrals, and clarifies service provider roles and responsibilities from all sectors. It also aims to influence trauma-informed policy development at the system level.

?What's this?

Full Implementation

The Justice Collaborative continues to offer presentations and training sessions on trauma-informed practice to the community and partner organizations. These half-day or two-day workshops for service providers provide information about the following topics:

  • What is trauma?
  • What does it mean to be “trauma-informed”?
  • How do we integrate a trauma-informed perspective into justice work?

Training sessions led by Dr. Kenneth Hardy also help identify trauma and aggravating factors, and how to effectively engage and work with adolescents who have experienced trauma. Additionally, specific training from a First Nations lens explores trauma and healing from an Indigenous perspective.

New sessions for leadership in justice organizations have been requested. The process is ongoing and is expected to expand its reach and effectiveness in the coming months.


the number of service providers, representing mental health, justice, addictions, child welfare, education, and First Nations, Métis and Inuit sectors who have attended the trainings


of attendees say the workshops were helpful or very helpful.


of attendees say the workshops are having a positive impact on the system already.

Next steps

At a deputation to city council, Service Collaborative Co-Chairs Michelle Ott and Sheri Norlen, speaking on behalf of the 53 collaborative members and 35 organizations, explained the group’s mission to create an integrated service system built on a foundation of trauma-informed practice. They expressed the importance of gaining buy-in and in particular, the importance of understanding the trauma experienced by Aboriginal people as a result of colonization, past government policy, residential schools, and other culturally-specific traumas. 

A positive outcome resulting from the workshops was the request from community organizations to have a trauma-based workshop for organizational leaders. The hope of doing this was to further instill the trauma lens throughout all organizations involved and help permeate the youth justice system as whole.

Although the group has made inroads, especially in Kenora, their work continues. The goal now is to venture out into other district communities, garner further support and implement the trauma-informed practices throughout the system. 

Who is involved?

  • Kenora Rainy-River Justice Service Collaborative
  • Over 170 service providers, representing mental health, justice, addictions, child welfare, education, and First Nations, Métis and Inuit sectors
  • CMHA Kenora Branch
  • Klinic Community Health Centre of Manitoba 
  • Ontario Provincial Police – NW Region
  • Dryden, Treaty #3, Nishnawbe-Aski and Lac Seul FN Police Services
  • FIREFLY Northwest
  • Portage Youth Centre
  • Youth Services - Kenora

For more information, please contact:

Michelle Guitard, Regional Implementation Coordinator