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Youth engagement presentation at CMHO Annual Conference

Back in November, Heather and I presented at the Children’s Mental Health Ontario (CMHO) Annual Conference, “Getting it Right for Kids and Families”, in Toronto. Since youth engagement is awesome and something we need to be talking about, I thought I’d share a few thoughts about the day.

For a bit of context, the conference featured Dr. Michael Ungar and Dr. Patrick Corrigan as keynote speakers, youth justice workers, public health workers, government officials, parents and more. We attended the first day of the conference, which consisted of keynote speakers and multiple workshops / presentations.

Alongside our partners from the Centre for Addictions and Mental Health, we gave a presentation on youth engagement and the process of creating the app, Be Safe. We spoke to the research behind youth engagement and its history over the years, and to how the Service Collaboratives in Ontario are implementing youth engagement strategies.

We used the process of the group of youth that co-created the Be Safe app, a process that really exceeds the term “youth engagement” and moves into the territory of youth / adult partnerships. In the creation of the app, designed to help young people in London find an appropriate resource to get help in a crisis, was originally an idea put forward by a young person attending a Service Collaborative meeting in London. From there, a group of young people partnered with staff from CAMH and mindyourmind to build the app from the ground up. We spoke to the process, what working meaningfully with young people looks like, and the challenges and benefits that come along with these processes. We finished off with small takeaway ideas and things organizations can do to start working with youth or to continue and better the work they’ve already started.

It’s always a great feeling to speak to a room jam packed with people holding on to everything we’re saying about youth engagement. It’s great to see such a variety of people attending conferences on bettering the programs that specifically promote health for young people. And it’s great to have a room full of people creating these programs, to talk to them about how essential it is to have young people at the table. In doing this, we’re creating the best situation possible because it means that organizations will create relevant and useful health promotion programs, and young people play the big role that they should in their creation and be compensated and valued for their time.

It’s important that we constantly talk about engagement and push people and their organizations to keep youth voices present at the table to trust that young people know how they want to be engaged. It’s important that we talk about what we believe will better the lives of young people and promote the processes in which we can do that.