Integrated youth service hub could provide central location for services

ABERFOYLE – Cindy Forsythe wants to see the creation of an Integrated Youth Service Hub to serve young people across Wellington County.

Forsythe approached Puslinch councillors on May 1 on behalf of the Rotary Club of Guelph.

She came to council with an idea which had been percolating for the past nine to 10 months in Guelph and Wellington County.

The idea is to bring an integrated youth services model to Wellington County and the City of Guelph.

Forsythe said at the time the idea was presented to the Rotary, there were nine hubs within Ontario.

The hubs are a “bricks and mortar” building that acts as a one-stop shop for youth aged 12 to 26.

She explained the model is designed to meet a wide range of needs across the continuum, including mental health, substance use, primary care, education, employment, training, housing and other community and social services.

The idea is that there is a warm welcoming atmosphere and that it is co-designed by youth.

“Let’s face it, anyone my age trying to design something for youth – they are not going to come.”

However, she explained “if you engage youth and help them build the type of facility they want, they will come.”

“Co-designed with youth, they are created to include peer services, outreach, and system-navigation services. Services emphasize quality, are timely, integrated and co-located, making it incredibly easy for youth to get what they need, when they need it.” 

The vision also includes service providers working together to enhance the integration of services and build a system to better meet the needs of youth in our community.

“The intent is that young people will be able to access services within minutes – not weeks months, or years.”

After being presented the information the Rotarians asked if there was an appetite for such a hub in Guelph.

She said a one-day workshop was held in which over 40 organizations were invited.

“The result of that meeting was a resounding ‘yes’ – bring it to Guelph and bring it fast.”

Then, she said, someone asked “what about Wellington County?”

She spoke to Eddie Alton of the County of Wellington who said, “we’re all the way in,” and offered to have representation on the steering committee.

Then, a scan was done to determine what services actually existed – like an inventory.

The next evolution of the hubs would be to integrate rural youth.

As a result, it was proposed to co-locate sites within Wellington County and Guelph.

This would result in smaller sites – but ones in which services could be easily accessed across the county.

“Youth don’t want to call to a 1-800 number and be told to call A, B, C or D.”

She said “youth want to be able to walk into a centre on a Tuesday afternoon after school, state their challenge, and within minutes someone is available to set down to a one-hour session to talk and offer some coping strategies.”

Forsythe said in Wellington County/Guelph there is the third aspect of the local university.

“In Canada there is currently no model of this type which addresses the need of university students.”

The committee has partnered with the University of Guelph and is working to develop co-located sites.

“We are looking at developing a network system so these sites can work together.”

Forsythe said “we need partnerships for this because we do not want to be a stand-alone charity.

The group’s primary partner is CMHA Waterloo-Wellington.

She stressed “we don’t want to build this as a pilot or a testing ground, we want to build this with a 10-year minimum.”

Forsythe said there was also a callout to local community partners for start up funds to bring the concept together and develop youth engagement.

Councillor Matthew Bulmer found the concept really interesting.

He said clients do benefit from the creation of one-stop service hubs. “It creates a critical mass to provide other services without expanding one’s budget.” 

Forsythe stressed “this is not about hiring new staff, this is about working with existing organizations and relocating their expertise or staff to a centralized hub.”

She added there is not necessarily a need to build new buildings when there is the potential of sharing space with existing services.

Forsythe added whatever technology is used, “it not only needs to be something (youth) will use, it also needs to be private.”

Councillor Jessica Goyda said it seems mental health issues are affecting younger and younger children.

“As a society, we need to make sure we have … healthy youth.”

Goyda suggested one of the challenges for some youth is simply not knowing where to find the resources they require. “A one-stop shop could help guide them along the way to get the right information.”

Forsythe said, “This is a massive project, but not everything needs to be built all at once. Even if we start small, we need to start somewhere.”

She added “my dream is that all service clubs in Wellington County would be able to get behind this project.”