Letters To The Editor

Closure of Ontario Youth Justice Centres

March 21, 2021

Closure of Ontario Youth Justice Centres

The news cycle on the abrupt closure of 26 Youth Justice Centres by the Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services (MCCSS) in early March 2021 has long since passed, but the impact has not. 

Children’s Mental Health Ontario (CMHO) spoke out about the decision. “This unilateral action has cut access to the only available and evidence-based complex and intensive mental health program to some of the provinces hardest to reach youth who are in desperate need of the services,” said Kimberly Moran, Children’s Mental Health Ontario, CEO. “There is nowhere else for these adolescent boys and girls, who are disproportionately Black or Indigenous, to receive the proven clinical treatment required to meet their needs.” An estimated 90 percent of those involved in Ontario’s youth justice system have mental health issues with as many as 25 percent needing specialized mental health services. 

The impact on youth in northern Ontario is disproportionate since youth from closed centers there have been moved to facilities far from their homes and communities, cutting important ties that are beneficial to their mental health. Intergeneration trauma is an important factor in the mental wellbeing of indigenous youth and moving them farther from home will add to this trauma. 

While the Ontario Auditor General recommended the closing of these facilities, and there may be good reasons to shut down some of the centres due to the high cost of maintaining under-used facilities, auditors general are not experts in mental health. MCCSS has a responsibility to ensure that proper processes are followed to ensure the wellbeing of those affected. In the end, this is a case study in how such decisions should NOT be made. 

So, what should and could be done differently:

  1. Those who are affected by such changes, including families and community members, should be consulted to determine the short and long-term impacts.
  2. The long-term costs of having youth fall through the cracks needs to be considered. The cost to society of having someone remain in the justice and/or mental health and addictions system for life is high. These youth are also more prone to suicide and the impact on families and communities in such an event are also great. 
  3. Particularly, consideration should be given to the impact on indigenous youth and families with reference to the findings and recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission
  4. A plan for the closures should have been developed allowing time for preparation and support for those being moved and their families. 

The Voice for Mental Health Collective (V4MHC) is advocating for these youth and encourage the government to address these issues. For further information, contact frank@v4mhc.com.