What is the system challenge?

Between 50 and 75 percent of youth in the justice system have one or more mental health challenges (International Society of Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurses, 2008). Many of these challenges go unrecognized and can be associated with school difficulties, unemployment, poverty and encounters with the law (Canadian Mental Health Association, 2007). Early identification and intervention can help prevent some of these negative outcomes and lessen long term disability (The President's New Freedom Commission on Mental Health, 2003). However, in many communities, there is no consistent approach for identifying the needs of youth in the court system. 

What are we doing about it?

The Niagara Justice Collaborative identified a need for coordination and collaboration between sectors to improve support for youth in the court system and also the need for a dedicated Youth Court to better align with the Youth Criminal Justice Act. A coordinated, cross-sector approach to early identification and intervention can help youth and their families to receive the services and supports that best meet their needs (Stroul, 2002). To address these needs, the Collaborative developed the Niagara Youth Court Screening Initiative (NYCSI) with help from the Provincial System Support Program at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health.

NYCSI involves a cross-sector team of service providers who are present at the St. Catharines court house on days that Youth Court is held. All youth appearing in court for the first time are invited to participate in the screening process to identify potential mental health, addictions, and other needs (e.g., employment). Based on youth needs and interest in receiving services, the NYCSI team connects youth with organizations in Niagara that can help provide support. They also assist transitions between different systems (justice, health, social, education) with the goal of improving outcomes for youth and families. The NYCSI team offers screening in French, and includes a community service provider from the First Nations, Inuit and Métis sector.

The team also developed a database for collecting basic, non-personal information about the types of youth seen in court as well as their self-identified needs.

?What's this?

Full Implementation

The Youth Court has become a fully integrated component of the St. Catharines court, taking place twice monthly. In addition, the NYCSI process has been fully embedded into Youth Court. NYCSI is community-owned, with a local Advisory Team providing ongoing oversight to support sustainability. This team also reflects on processes and opportunities for improvement. 

The Youth didn't just appear in front of the court that day. There is a story involved. The screening team is really important in developing an understanding of that story.

— Niagara Service Provider

Youth Court sessions took place between February 2015 (inception) and December 2016


youth screened by NYCSI between May 2015 and December 2016


of youth screened identified mental health needs and 40% identified substance use concerns

Who is involved?

The Collaborative consisted of approximately 30 active members from the justice, education, health, Aboriginal services, child welfare, mental health, and addiction sectors.

Next Steps

Based on the success of this program in St. Catharines, community stakeholders are exploring the possibility of creating a similar program in Welland. There is also significant interest in the program and the implementation process from across the province.

"The feedback we are getting on this novel concept and process makes us very proud and speaks volumes to the fact that we are not alone in this need." 

-- Mike Taylor, Youth Resources Niagara, Collaborative Co-chair


For more information, please contact

Marla Banning, Regional Implementation Coordinator