North Bay police, local agencies partner to create new mental health initiative to help youth
Nipissing University is spearheading a one-year research project to create a youth mental health program aimed at increasing how quickly officials respond to children and youth in crisis in the city.
The university is working in collaboration with the North Bay police, Hands The Family Help Network, and a private software company.
“We need a more collaborative response to people with mental health problems in the community,” said Ron Hoffman, chair of the university’s School of Criminology and Criminal Justice program.
Hoffman secured a $100,000 grant from Ontario Centres For Excellence In Child and Youth Mental Health to kick start a pilot program targeted at youth under age 18.
The project will give police access to what’s called a ‘mental health screener’ on their phone. When officers arrive on scene for a mental health related call involving a youth, they can input information regarding the child into the screener.
“Quite often, the police service is the first emergency service or social service to respond to a youth in crisis,” said North Bay Police Chief Scott Tod.
The screener will automatically compute an algorithm for categories like danger to self, danger to others and inability to care for one’s self.
“So what it does, is it will help the officer decide on what is the most appropriate action,” said Hoffman. “Whether to take the person to the hospital, we’re also creating linkages where officers can send information from the screener to local mental health agencies.”
One of these agencies joining the partnership is Hands The Family Help Network, which will get youth the appropriate help they need right away.
“It would almost be like an urgent response model to children who are at higher risk in the community or dealing with more complex mental health needs,” said Trish Benoit, the group's acting director of children and youth services.
Oftentimes, youth in crisis incidents occur in school or at home. Statistics from July show police responded to 150 mental health related calls. The police’s mobile crisis team was sent to 22 of those calls.
“Having a screener available to us to record and have information readily provided to a healthcare provider in a very quick fashion will be able to get us access to an individual quicker,” said Tod.
It’s a one-of-a-kind project. Benoit said similar programs have been created for police agencies catered to the adult sector, but never for struggling youth.
“We’re one of the first communities to pilot this across the province within the age demographic,” she said.
Hoffman, a former police officer, said the screener tool will not only help youth get treatment faster, but also help police who might not be trained how to deal with certain mental health incidents.
“What we’re doing is catching that mental health disorder at an earlier stage in the hopes of averting situations where the police come later and it’s already a crisis,” said Hoffman. “This is really huge. It’s ground-breaking.”
Hoffman said police will be trained to ask for consent to use the system with the youth in crisis, unless it’s a matter of a life or death.
It’s hoped the screener system will be set up by Dec. 8.