New youth services model aimed at bridging service gaps in Wellington County

Keegan Kozolanka, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
·3 min read

WELLINGTON COUNTY – A new model for youth services is gaining ground in the county to bridge the gap that exists in available services.

The Integrated Youth Services Network (IYSN) is a hub that allows 12 to 26 year olds access a range of services in a single place.

One is partially open in Fergus, with two more in Erin and Palmerston opening by the end of the year. Four other locations will open throughout Guelph.

Cyndy Moffat Forsyth, IYSN director, said that youth are being affected equally across the country by these issues but available services aren’t equally distributed.

“If you’re in Wellington County and you have an eating disorder, you have to drive to Waterloo to the eating disorders clinic or Guelph,” Moffat Forsyth said as an example.

This is why when this concept was introduced to the area. Moffat Forsyth said they knew it couldn’t just be a single large centre in downtown Guelph.

“We’d be missing way too many youth,” she said.

Krista Sibbilin, director of children’s services at CMHA Waterloo-Wellington, said the geography of the county can present challenges for youth accessing services such as the ability to arrive at an office at a scheduled time.

Sibbilin acknowledged that there is a growing need for access to these services province-wide.

“We’ve identified across Ontario that there are waiting lists for children’s services,” Sibbilin said. “Coming into our services there is a process and the complexity and needs of children is increasing over time.”

Sibbilin said she thinks the IYSN model can reduce barriers to accessing these services.

“I think the IYSN is another opportunity to reach out to something they’ve been involved in or co-designed to meet their needs,” Sibbilin said.

Young people throughout the region have been directly involved in the process to shape what is in the hubs.

Moffatt Forsyth explained that they have held engagement sessions to understand specifically what each area wants.

The different hubs won’t necessarily be the same and the services aren’t all directly health related.

For example, she said the Fergus location has a large commercial kitchen and cooking lessons have been a big thing at the Big Brothers Big Sisters’ Centre Wellington led hub.

On the other hand, the youth in Palmerston were interested in a music room and a volunteer to teach guitar or the keyboard.

Another service she said could be help with job searching or securing more stable housing.

Moffatt Forsyth said having these offerings can create an environment where they feel comfortable seeking help.

“Make these centres warm and welcoming places where the youth will want to be,” she said.

“Then we have a better shot at having them access the services when they need them.”

Moffatt Forsyth explained that this concept is gaining momentum across the country with 10 similar hubs in Ontario and 41 in Canada.

“People know with youth we have a big problem on our hands with mental health and addictions,” she said.

“What we’re doing right now isn’t working so we have to figure out how we can change.”

Keegan Kozolanka, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, GuelphToday.com