North Bay Police will soon have a tool to help them better respond to children and youth with mental health issues.
The police department has partnered with Nipissing University and Hands The Family Help Network on a one-year pilot project, where police will use a mental health screening tool to guide children and youth to appropriate mental health support services.
“It really is a collaborative community response,” said Ron Hoffman, president of the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Nipissing University.
Hoffman is a former police officer and taught for many years at the Ontario Police College. In 2013, he developed a mental health screening tool that is now used by several police forces, including the Ontario Provincial Police.
In a one-year pilot project, the tracing tool will be used by North Bay Police, with a particular focus on children and youth.
The university and Hands received a $ 100,000 grant from Mental Health Research Canada and the Ontario Center of Excellence for Child and Youth Mental Health to fund the pilot project.
The screening tool is intended for use when officers interact with someone they believe is showing signs of a mental health problem. The officer responds to a series of questions based on their conversation with the person and their own observations of their behavior. This tool then makes it possible to inform whether this person should go to the hospital or could benefit from other support.
With the individual’s permission, the information gathered from the screening tool can be sent to the hospital, so staff are ready to respond upon arrival. In cases where hospitalization is not required, the information can be sent to a local mental health agency, again with the person’s consent.
Officers would also have access to the information during any subsequent interaction with the same person. Hoffman said officers already had the existing power to track similar information in their regular note-taking.
“They don’t go out of their way to collect personal information and data from people for the sole purpose of collecting it, they do it because they want to help that person get the help they may need,” Hoffman said.
In the case of the North Bay pilot project, the agency that will receive referrals will be Hands The Family Help Network, which provides mental health services to children and youth.
“It actually helps identify a person who needs services in a timely manner, and who is not alone … to the people who need them most,” said Scott Tod, Chief Constable of the Police Department. of North Bay.
Tod said agents in North Bay answer an average of 200 calls per month related to people in crisis.
âStaggeringâ Increase in Youth Mental Health Needs
Hands will aim to have a clinician respond to referrals within 24 hours, perform a risk assessment and offer an “intensive intervention,” the agency’s acting director of children and youth services said, Trish Benoit.
âHowever, we know that a large majority of young people, if you can intervene briefly, for a short period in an intensive manner, more often than not, it is not necessary to register on this waiting list for longer term services. , said BenoÃ®t.
Benoit said the agency has seen a “staggering” increase in needs among young people in the community. She said resources were already limited before the pandemic, and now even more. Between April and December 2020, service requests increased by 184%, according to Benoit.
For the record, Benoit said Hands “saw more complex children come through our door.”
“We are seeing children with higher levels of suicidality, higher levels of behavioral problems, and higher levels of eating disorders.”
Reduce contact with the police
North Bay Police are expected to start using the tool in early December. During the pilot project, a steering committee will meet once a month to assess progress.
Benoit said as the pilot unfolds, she will be looking for two key indicators. She hopes this system will reduce âtraumaticâ hospital visits, with children and youth being referred to Hands instead, and she also hopes that it will ultimately result in less interaction between youth and police.
âWe can reduce the number of times the police see these children and youth because we’re going the first time rather than the third or fourth time,â Benoit said.
If the pilot project is successful, Ron Hoffman hopes the same model can be used elsewhere in the province and across the country.