Treating Youth with Complex Mental Health Issues in the Youth Justice System

In March of 2020, the Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services (MCCSS) announced its provincial Youth Justice Modernization initiative to align custody/detention capacity with declining provincial service demand. A large number of open and secure facilities were notified their beds would be reduced or cut entirely.

Kinark’s youth justice-funded specialized mental health custody and detention program at Syl Apps Youth Centre was included in the closures.  These beds provided specialized mental health treatment to youth around the province who were on secure custody and detention orders.

Kids in the youth justice system are at a high risk for mental illness, with approximately 25% experiencing complex mental illnesses that require intensive treatment. Many are suicidal, self-harming, and in the system for actions related to untreated mental illness. The program supported access to intensive mental health treatment for youth in secure custody and detention, youth who were primarily Black, Indigenous and racialized.  The closure of this program will mean many youth will not receive treatment when and where they need it, creating even greater risks of poor outcomes for them, their families, their communities and the staff who serve them.

Children’s Mental Health Ontario (CMHO) is calling on the Ontario government to restore this program and transfer it to the Ministry of Health. “Because the youth are racialized, and/or marginalized, they end up in the youth justice system rather than in the mental health system. Because they are in custody, they can’t access the services they should have received in the first place,” CMHO.