The following is an interview that GBF conducted with Pam Sveinson, the Executive Director of the Manitoba Youth Hubs Initiative.
GBF: Pam, you carried out a thorough selection process (involving youth, philanthropy, community, and government) to choose the five new community sites. What are some key lessons learned from this process? Did anything surprise you?
Pam Sveinson: We were thrilled with the response to the Call for Proposals that closed in December 2020. We received 21 compelling proposals from communities across the province (far greater than what we had expected), which clearly demonstrates the tremendous need and interest in scaling Integrated Youth Services (IYS) across Manitoba. The response also underlined the need for youth mental health services in underserved communities, which has been exacerbated by the pandemic. Thanks to additional philanthropic and government funding, five partnerships (instead of three as originally planned) will be establishing Youth Hubs. Our hope is to continue scaling in rural and remote communities in the future.
In addition, we are so grateful for the support from our philanthropic partners. Several organizations and foundations have been at the table since the Manitoba Initiative’s inception, and two more came on board this year. We have also received incredible conceptual and logistical assistance from others engaged in this work across the country. The teams from Foundry BC, Youth Wellness Hubs Ontario, and the Graham Boeckh Foundation have been very generous in sharing their time, expertise and lessons learned.
GBF: What are you most excited about or looking forward to as you embark on this journey with the five communities?
Pam Sveinson: We are very excited to bring together the five new sites and NorWest (an existing youth hub in Winnipeg) as part of the formal Manitoba Youth Hubs network. We know that a network approach will enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of implementing this model of care in Manitoba, enable the communities to support each other by sharing resources, best practices and lessons learned, and further build organizational and collective capacity. In addition, the network will be able to learn from the Youth Hubs led by our Indigenous partners Ka Ni Kanichihk and Peguis First Nation, who will combine Western clinical services with Indigenous models of care, including giving youth access to traditional Indigenous wellness and cultural ceremonies to support their mental health.
We are also excited about initiating a branding exercise and engaging youth to be part of the process.
GBF: What gaps do you expect that the Manitoba Youth Hubs Initiative will be able to fill?
Pam Sveinson: A few years ago, Manitoba engaged in a comprehensive, province- and system-wide review of mental health and substance use services, resulting in the 2018 VIRGO Report. The Report found that 1 in 3 Manitobans aged 15 and older experience significant mental health or substance use challenges and highlighted the urgent need for early access to services, treatment, and support. We also know that young people in Canada are more likely to experience a mental illness or a substance use disorder than any other age group. Right now, the pathways to accessing care can be fragmented and unclear, particularly for young people, with limited coordination across the different service providers.
We see this as an opportunity to re-envision and transform our systems of care and move to a more integrated, youth-centred approach, grounded in a shared belief that young people and their families should have a voice in their care. We think the initiative has an incredible potential to address some of the gaps in the current system, including accessing care more easily, navigating the system more effectively and getting the care that they need early on.
GBF: Five new sites will become part of the Manitoba Youth Hubs Initiative, each serving communities with their own unique needs and populations. What key challenges will need to be overcome or addressed for Youth Hubs to be successful in these communities and across the province?
Pam Sveinson: One of the biggest challenges we have faced so far is setting up a systems-transforming initiative in the middle of a pandemic. We are well aware of the numerous challenges many community-based organizations have been dealing with since the pandemic hit and initially hesitated whether it was the right time for this project. However, stakeholders around the table felt strongly about moving forward with the initiative as the need for services was only going to grow – a decision which was clearly supported by the community given the positive response to the Call for Proposals.
Another challenge we have recognized is the need to engage in a robust common evaluation framework as we have a unique opportunity to demonstrate how valuable the IYS model is for Manitoba youth and families. The organizations who are leading the Youth Hubs are so excited to do this work. The fact that our partners are stepping up to create brand new Youth Hubs, and are eager to take on the challenge, is a testament to their strength and commitment to young people.