Integrated Youth Services Network of Networks Initiative (IYS-Net) – Overview

Why does this initiative matter?

Research shows that 75% of mental illness begins before age 25. There is therefore a need to intervene early in ways that are easily accessible and meet young people where they are.  

The COVID-19 pandemic has also exacerbated mental health and substance use difficulties for many young people (e.g., anxiety, depression, substance use disorders). These challenges can be attributed to a range of factors including a lack of access to mental health services, disruptions to education systems, social isolation and an uneven job market.

In response to this pressing mental health and substance use crisis in Canada, IYS-Net will improve access to mental health and substance use supports and services for young people (typically in the range of 12 to 25 years of age) by advancing Canada-wide research, collaboration, and knowledge mobilization regarding evidence-based IYS models to improve youth mental health and substance use outcomes. It will also promote an equitable learning health systems approach, where evidence is integrated seamlessly into practice, health decision-making and policy.

What is a Learning Health System?

A Learning Health System (LHS) is a health care system in which research, data, and experience generate knowledge and evidence that is embedded in and applied to processes, policies and practices to continuously innovate and improve health equity, service delivery and cost. A LHS will also improve the experience for service providers as well as for people accessing services (e.g. youth, families, caregivers, etc.).

What are Integrated Youth Services and what do we mean by a ‘Network of Networks’?

Integrated Youth Services (IYS) represents a dynamic pan-Canadian and international approach that aims to build effective, youth-focused and integrated services for mental health, substance use and related issues. It is defined by a set of guiding principles for delivering community-based mental health and substance use services alongside additional needed youth supports. Services delivered through IYS often include:

This approach has been designed and developed by young people and their caregivers and families and has been gaining momentum across Canada since 2013.

In Canada, almost every province and territory is rolling out IYS (e.g., Foundry in British Columbia, Youth Wellness Hubs Ontario), including in Indigenous communities. While individual IYS sites may vary depending on the local needs of communities, each province and territory set guiding practices or standards for the delivery of IYS. IYS-Net will build upon the success of the ACCESS Open Minds Network and support existing and developing provincial and territorial networks to understand and evaluate best practices in IYS.

IYS-Net is called a “network of networks” because the goal is to support provincial and territorial networks to develop and maintain learning health systems, as well as link IYS networks across the country (existing and emerging) into a coordinated, pan-Canadian network of IYS researchers, service providers, policy makers, and most importantly, youth.

IYS-Net and Pan-Canadian Standards for Mental Health Services

In addition, IYS-Net will play a prominent role in informing Canada's National Standards for Mental Health Services, a Government of Canada priority outlined in Budget 2021.

IYS-Net will contribute evidence and knowledge to inform the development of pan-Canadian standards for mental health and substance use services in IYS (e.g., standards for data gathering, quality of services, access to care, culturally informed care, and engaging youth and families in service design and delivery, etc.).

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