Using stakeholder-informed research to influence system change: Findings from a national multi-community initiative

Presentation First Author: 
Joanna Henderson

Introduction: Most youth who could benefit from substance use or mental health treatment services do not present for help to treatment agencies. This is the despite evidence that early identification of needs and early intervention can reduce the long-term impacts of untreated substance use and mental health problems. Moreover, many youth with substance use and mental health concerns are involved with other service sectors (e.g., justice, child welfare, housing). Innovative service models to improve the accessibility and acceptability of services to youth are critically needed. On behalf of our collaborators we will share our experiences implementing a multi-site initiative to enhance youth services.

Objectives: In response to stakeholder-identified needs (including youth, family members, service providers and policy-makers), we implemented an initiative to support development of cross-sectoral networks in 16 Canadian communities. These networks had opportunities to implement a common screening tool, learn about youth substance use and mental health needs across sectors, enhance service provider capacity to address these needs, and engage stakeholders in interpreting findings and making recommendations.

Methods: Cross-sectoral stakeholders from 16 communities across Canada were supported to build networks of agencies serving youth (aged 12- 24 years), engage in joint capacity building, and/or implement an evidence-supported practice (screening for mental health and substance use problems) across their services. Core project elements were standardized and while other elements were open to local adaptation to promote uptake. Uptake and aspects of practice change were measured over time. Stakeholders participated in joint data analyses, and report and recommendation generation.

Results: Over 800 stakeholders, including service providers, agency managers, policy makers, youth and family members participated in a range of project activities. In response to screening data about the needs of over 2000 youth across Canada, a number of system change recommendations were made. These recommendations include the continued use of screening for mental health and substance use needs among youth, the development and implementation of gender-informed and gender-specific services, the implementation of developmentally-informed and developmentally-specific services, enhanced services to address suicide and trauma, enhanced services to promote health and well-being, increased youth-targeted awareness campaigns about services, and continued efforts to build cross-sectoral collaboration and coordination.

Conclusion: Stakeholder-informed research, while having challenges, has many benefits and is feasible. Using a range of strategies to promote stakeholder engagement seems to be an important facet of conducting stakeholder-informed research. Many stakeholders welcome the opportunity to participate and projects benefit greatly from their participation.

Conference Name: 
Date of Presentation: 
10th Oct 2015
Type of presentation: 
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