Partnership seeks to improve Indigenous youth mental health

Local Indigenous youth will soon have better mental health support in the community, thanks to Youth iPortage, a project born of a partnership between London Family Court Clinic and N’Amerind Friendship Centre that was supported by Western’s Faculty of Education and funded by the Aboriginal Justice Directorate of the federal Department of Justice.

The faculty’s Centre for Interdisciplinary Research in Curriculum as a Social Practice partnered with the London Family Court Clinic (LFCC) to build N’Amerind’s capacity by helping to develop curriculum and materials for counsellors and therapists who support  local Indigenous youth that are at risk of negative outcomes.

After holding several design studios in which youth participated, LFCC sought Western’s guidance on the development of curriculum that could make a difference for local youth, was respectful to Indigenous cultures, and was something with which the youth would truly want to engage.

“Curriculum is not just a program syllabus or a course outline,” said Kathy Hibbert, Director of the Curriculum Centre. “It’s about what’s hidden from those items; things like belief systems, cultural elements and particular ways of thinking and being also need to be considered and included.”

Hibbert worked with a team of clinicians and stakeholders on the project. In addition to participants from the court clinic, the project gathered researchers and experts in curriculum design from the Centre with members of Mind Your Mind, a local group that promotes and supports positive youth mental health.

Twenty-six local and Indigenous youth participated in a two-day“collective design studio” over the course of two weekends to share their experiences and thoughts and build upon, each other’s perspectives in order to achieve the best results possible. For Heather Fredin, a Registered Psychotherapist with the London Family Court Clinic, participation in the design studios, piloting the curriculum and the community forum was a tremendously rewarding experience.

“One of the most exciting outcomes for me was how much I learned by working alongside the Indigenous youth,” she said. “That is something that will forever inform my work and help me be a more sensitive and responsive clinician.”

Having multiple points of view providing input during the design process is key, said Hibbert.

“Our Centre intentionally takes a social practice approach, which means we include voices of learners, practitioners, researchers and the community,” said Hibbert. “It’s important to bring as many perspectives to the table as possible.”

To begin the process of informing the curriculum, Hibbert’s CRC team undertook an exhaustive literature review on psychoeducational approaches to working with Indigenous youth to see what had worked, and what did not in other communities. The literature review, feedback from youth obtained at the pilot sessions and input from service providers shared at the community forum are all culminating in an online, dynamic curriculum aimed to be responsive to the needs of Indigenous youth. Some key objectives of the program include referral of pre-charge youth to N’Amerind’s new program and better coordination among service providers to the unique needs of Indigenous youth.

N’Amerind’s new program is an eight-week series of topics designed by Indigenous youth for Indigenous youth. It includes elements of music, art and cultural learnings, as well as a series of stories told from the perspective of Indigenous youth. The combined content will better enable N’Amerind to optimally utilize their current resources to connect with local youth, and to provide assistance and encouragement when necessary.

Some of the benefits of this collaboration already being experienced are the enhanced conversations and coordination of services among service providers in the London-Middlesex community.

“What was developed in this case is something that is not only relevant to Indigenous youth, but also timely, research-based and, most importantly, responsive,” said Hibbert. “It can be adjusted and adapted instantly, and is far more likely to succeed as a result.

“We learned through this process that Indigenous youth really wanted to express themselves in ways beyond simply answering questions, so we developed programing to help them do that in a variety of ways. Hopefully, those types of expressions can be really meaningful to youth, and provide positive benefits to those who might be struggling.”