Intersections aims to connect dots between at-risk young people and social supports

JASON PARKS

STAFF WRITER

A new proactive program designed to assist local young people on the precipice of becoming “justice involved” has launched in the Quinte region.

Intersections is an evidence–informed early intervention program for children and youth identified as at-risk of negative encounters with the justice system and it provides supports to their families as needed.

A regional strategy originally developed by the Champlain Youth Justice Collaborative to address calls for social service-related issues, ongoing crisis incidents, and mental health problems for children less than 12 years of age, the Quinte area version of the program is headquartered in Belleville and serves several surrounding jurisdictions including Prince Edward County.

Intersections was developed out of necessity due to the lack of a defined path forward for many of these types of calls as well as to stop a drain of police resources for calls that could not be rectified without further social supports, Community Organized Support and Prevention Quinte executive director Linda Seely explained

These calls often can’t be resolved by local police services but they could be a bellwether for future issues that would require formal involvement by the justice community and that’s where the term ‘justice-involved’ comes from,” Seely told the Gazette. “Police services were going many times to the same home for things that were not criminal. They were social needs.”

Front-line officers in areas of eastern Ontario where Intersections first originated were frustrated that time and resources were being spent on situations that they couldn’t really address but felt leaving the home there were issues that could be addressed in a positive and proactive way.

Canada’s youth justice legislation, the Youth Criminal Justice Act (YCJA), only applies to children and youth between the ages of 12 and 17 and this means there is no clear approach for responding to children under 12 who come in contact with police.

With no consistent approach for identifying the mental health and addiction services needs of these children and youth at their earliest contact with the justice system,  considerable police resources (75 to 85 per cent of youth service calls in eastern Ontario) are invested in responding to incidents for which charges cannot be laid and for which social service agencies need to be involved.

These young individuals and/or their families often come into contact with police because of situations related to mental health issues or illnesses, childhood and youth developmental issues and/or substance use issues,” Seely said. “In order to reduce and prevent further interaction with police services and the justice system, this program helps young individuals and/or their families to access available support services within the community. The program supports young individuals 8 through 17 at first contact with police services.”

The program is voluntary and young individuals and/or their families are offered help to navigate the complicated roadmap of services offered by Children’s Mental Health or Highland Shores Children’s Aid or other agencies that best fit their unique needs and strengths.

After police contact, the Intersections co-ordinator completes referrals with the partnering service agencies based on the needs and strengths identified with the young individuals and/or their families.

At this stage, we really take a look at the whole picture and examine the family dynamic and how we can help make the situation better with the proper supports,” Seely said.

The Intersections co-ordinator will then provide support and follow-up with the young individual and/or their family during and after the referral is made, until the young individual is actively engaged in three consecutive appointments with the new service agency.

At this time the Intersections co-ordinator will inform the young individual and/or their families about the closure of their file. On occasion, the Intersections file may be reopened if needs change or are unmet.

The main product of Intersections is a pre-diversion that allows young people to identify behaviours and attitudes that, in unchecked and not addressed, will lead to a path of involvement with police.

A byproduct is a reduced number of calls for services and less youth coming through the youth criminal justice system and, ultimately, a better prioritization of police resources.

In time, with the assistance of community agencies, the dots get connected, there’s service pathways created and a reduction of the police calls and that reduces the amount of resources spent for a cost savings to the community,” Seely said.

Locally, the Prince Edward County police services board has pledged to support the program in 2019 with a grant of $5,000 secured from the municipality and its chair Marg Werkhoven said the old adage of an ounce of prevention being worth a pound of cure rings true when it comes to the pathways of youth that are displaying potentially dangerous behaviours.

We were certainly thinking about the reduction in calls for service because that are a cost for the taxpayer but I think we were even more prepared to support it because we saw Intersections as an important function to keep young people from getting involved in the Justice system if they didn’t need to,” Werkhoven said.

The board receives a monthly update from Prince Edward OPP concerning the program and the impact it’s having on Prince Edward County and results indicate the program is functioning as designed.

Obviously we have an oversight in policing in Prince Edward County but we share a priority in terms of community safety and well being and we see this program as an important part of addressing that priority,” Werkhoven added.

Prince Edward OPP community safety officer Const. Patrick Menard said there had been four referrals made in the county since the program commenced locally and four of the individuals engaged have not had any further dealings with police.

One of the two that chose not to participate have had some police involvement although no charges were laid.

“Having the ability for Intersections to source out the at-risk youth allows for better connection with outside agencies and that ultimately allows police to concentrate on highway traffic and other calls for service,” Menard told the Gazette.  “The program has proven to reduce police interaction up to 70 per cent in other areas of the province so our hope at Prince Edward OPP is to have the same results after the program has been up and running for a longer period of time.”