Strengthening safety nets to improve access to substance use and mental health services to optimize youth-determined health and wellness

Youth in Canada are experiencing the fastest growing rates of opioid use disorder and mental illness. We know that youth who are marginalized based on their sex, gender, sexuality, race, poverty, Indigeneity, experience with the child welfare system and other markers of inequity are overrepresented in these numbers. Yet, few resources exist that integrate diverse youth voices into substance use and mental health service design that meet their unique needs. This community-based research project addresses this gap by working with youth who have lived and living experiences of substance use and mental health challenges.

We will first establish a leadership circle that will engage a diverse group of youth including Indigenous, non-Indigenous, immigrant and refugee, LGBTQIA+, and pregnant and parenting youth who received services from our local community partners. We will use the arts-based ‘cultural probe’ data collection method to create mixed-media diaries that respond to our initial research questions: ‘How do you access services in your community? What barriers do you encounter?’ and ‘What resources will help you be healthy?’. We will invite the youth to discuss their diaries during interviews.

Together we will co-create a collective vision for more meaningful and accessible substance use and mental health services, grounded in each person’s own experience and recommendations. This vision will be translated into an intervention to pilot, implement, and evaluate at the Victoria Youth Clinic (Foundry Victoria) – and will inform implementation strategies for the other Foundry Centres across British Columbia.

Funding bodies

Michael Smith Health Research BC - Convene and Collaborate, SSHRC Partnership Engagement Grant Banting Postdoctoral Fellowship, CIHR

Progress to date

A scoping review is underway to identify youth-led/designed substance use interventions that have been implemented in health, education, and community care settings across the globe. We are currently establishing a youth working group, comprised of SCCFS youth advisory council members and VYCS clientele, who will help to guide the research project including assessing language and relevancy of the research questions and designing the research/data collection events. The working group will meet during July 2023 and data collection is planned to begin early fall of 2023.


  • Dr. Cecilia Benoit (NPA)
  • Cloutier, D. (Co-I)
  • Surrounded by Cedar Child and Family Services (SCCFS) (Co-I)
  • Victoria Youth Clinic Society (VYCS) (Co-I)
  • Dr. Andrea Mellor (Trainee/post-doctoral fellow)
  • BC for Children and Youth (RCY) (Co-Knowledge Users)
  • Premji, Z. (Collaborator)
  • Dr. Tim Naimi (Collaborator)
  • Brett Koenig (Research Assistant)