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Parent Action on Drugs (PAD) presents at the 2014 Children Mental Health Ontario Conference

By Seher Shafiq, Parent Action on Drugs

On November 25th, PAD attended the 2014 Children Mental Health Ontario (CMHO) conference titled "Getting it Right for Kids and Families" at the Marriot Hotel in Toronto. I attended on behalf of PAD, and we had a poster presentation on display titled Strengthening Families for Parents and Youth: Engaging Diverse Youth in a Family-Based, Skills-Building Approach. I got there bright and early for 7:30am, and before the conference started was able to chat with many delegates about our best-practice program for at-risk teens aged 12-16. You can learn more about our SFPY program at

CMHO Seher Nov 25

After the conference breakfast and poster presentations, the day opened with a speech by Mr. Aryeh Gitterman, Assistant Deputy Minister for Policy Development and Program Design at the Ministry for Children and Youth Services. Gitterman emphasized the importance of "shared responsibility", as well as collaboration at the local level. Recognizing that a lack of knowledge and lack of planning is a hurdle, he suggested that lead agencies should reach out to the LIHNs, as the two have a common objective and work together. Gitterman discussed the education system at length, stating that all 72 school boards in Ontario have a superintendent with responsibility for mental health, a mental health leader, and mental health teams. He noted that school boards now have a Mental Health Strategy and Action Plan in place, which is a big change from the past. Gitterman also touched on data, measurement and public reporting about performance indicators, stating that the public should know how the system is working.

After Gitterman's speech, I attended the morning session on youth engagement titled How to Give Youth an Opportunity to Speak Up, Speak Out! We talked quite a bit about the National Youth Advisory Committee – a group of 110 youth aged 12-24 from across Canada, who work on their own projects while also playing an advisory role for projects within and outside CAMH. The discussion focused around how to best engage youth and make them feel comfortable and welcome while doing so. We discussed that accountability means many things: being accountable to the process, letting youth know how their input will be used, encouraging diverse voices, and allocating money and staff into youth engagement. Integrity was also discussed as being key to youth engagement, and organizations should not just participate in youth engagement to "check the box"; they should do it wholeheartedly or not at all. We also touched on the importance of trust and respect, and talked about concrete ways to engage youth effectively: have food and incentives that youth will like, have more youth than adults in the room, support conversations rather than directing them, and ensure that the environment is comfortable, flexible and accessible. The best part about this session was the play-doh, pipe cleaners and pom poms on each table that participants were encouraged to play with!

play dough

After a healthy lunch and great keynote about mental illness and stigma by Professor Patrick Corrigan of the Illinois Institute of Technology, I headed over to another session on youth engagement titled Youth-Adult Partnerships: Working Together to Achieve Desired Outcomes and Impact System Change. A youth-adult partnership (YAP) is a relationship between adults and youth that focuses on joint work, common values, shared power and works on collective issues. The principles of a YAP include authentic decision-making (active participation of youth), community connectedness (increases community engagement, fosters relationships), natural mentorship (support without taking over), reciprocal activity (everyone is a teacher and student). The session discussed how youth can join an organization, as well as the challenges and solutions associated with YAPs. We ended with a short workshop where we discussed in groups what our organizations are currently doing to engage youth, and what we hope to do in the future.


The conference closed with a panel discussion and another engaging workshop. Overall, it was a great day!

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Comments 1

Guest - Andrea on Monday, 01 December 2014 14:16

Poster looks amazing! Well done, Seher!

Poster looks amazing! Well done, Seher!