Engage communities

Youth engagement in child and youth mental health requires a whole-community approach. Engaging the community means working with families, natural supports, formal supports, and other youth-serving organizations. 1


Effective youth engagement should go hand in hand with family engagement. This approach recognizes families as experts in the needs of their loved ones, promotes equitable partnerships and supports the family’s role in decision making. Engaging families in the treatment of children or youth leads to successful treatment outcomes. 2

Natural supports

In times of need, youth are more likely to reach out to peers and natural supports than formal helpers.3 Natural supports can include friends, peers, parents, caregivers, siblings, Elders, extended family members, faith or religious leaders, school counsellors or teachers, coaches and so on. Child and youth mental health agencies can work in partnership with youth to:

  • Cultivate and expand their circle of natural supports
  • Equip natural supports to effectively care for young people in their community (e.g. accurate mental health information, clear pathways to care, suicide-alert helping skills, etc.)
  • Learn from natural supports about community context, histories, strengths, cultural beliefs, values and other resources that can promote engagement and mental health 4

Featured story: Promoting youth engagement in mental health through cross-sectoral partnerships 
When newcomer youth need help, they are more likely to access informal support systems, such as community members or religious organizations. 5 Extended family members are often primary sources of support, and in some cases, families have been separated during the migration process. 6 The Transcultural Psychiatry model in Montréal works with the youth and their family throughout the treatment process to connect with family in other cities or countries if the youth considers this relationship important to promoting their mental health. 7

Featured story: Building a bridge between service providers and faith communities 
The Peel Service Collaborative, of the Systems Improvement through Service Collaboratives initiative hosted by CAMH, is responding to the diversity of youth and families in their region who often turn to leaders in their faith communities for mental health support. They plan to address this need by improving meaningful collaboration and relationship-building between faith communities and service providers. One of their chosen interventions includes offering Mental Health First Aid training, using a train-the-trainer approach, for free to faith leaders in their community, addressing stigma, mental health awareness, crisis support and pathways to care.

Community partners

Youth operate across diverse systems, accessing services through a variety of organizations like school, hospitals, recreation, etc. Engaging with agencies that serve youth in your community fosters collaboration and promotes the sharing of evidence-informed practices around youth engagement.

  • 1. National Institute of Health, 2011
  • 2. Hoagwood, 2005
  • 3. Armstrong & Manion, 2006
  • 4. Manion & Smith, 2011
  • 5. Khanlou et al., 2011
  • 6. Kilbride et al., 2000
  • 7. Measham, Rousseau, & Nadeau, 2005