Implementation and evaluation of a youth engagement strategy at the Family Navigation Project

Family Navigation Project

At the Family Navigation Project (FNP), we conducted a study to develop a framework for youth engagement (YE) in mental health and/or addiction (MHA) navigation services and use this to design a YE strategy for the FNP. Focus groups and interviews were conducted with over 80 youth with MHA concerns (representing a range of ethnicities, genders, socioeconomic statuses, living situations, and education levels), caregivers of youth with MHA concerns, and service providers and decision-makers at youth MHA agencies, to learn about their perspective regarding YE in navigation services. We identified themes of : youth-centered care; empowering youth; family considerations; sense of connection; continuity of care; enhancing knowledge of care options; considerations of equity, diversity, and inclusion; counteracting stigma; demonstrated organizational commitment to YE; and effective evaluation as crucial to YE in navigation services. We will share how these findings informed FNP’s YE strategy development and next steps in YE at FNP. This work is generating evidence with applicability for youth engagement in mental health and addiction services in general, and for researchers seeking to engage youth in studies focused on youth mental health and/or addiction services. We are evaluating many elements of the implementation of our YE strategy, including, but not limited to, navigator efficacy in engaging youth, numbers of youth referrals to FNP, youth satisfaction with FNP support. Understanding the needs of youth with MHA concerns for improved engagement in navigation services provides a crucial opportunity to generate findings that inform these services while they are new and gaining momentum.


Roula Markoulakis
Roula Markoulakis, PhD is a Scientist at the Sunnybrook Research Institute, with a focus on assisting youth with mental health and addiction concerns and their families in accessing needed services and care. With the Family Navigation Project (FNP), she has begun a research program that explores the Navigation model as applied to youth with mental health and/or addictions issues and their families. She believes strongly in youth- and family-oriented research, so that findings can be driven by and mobilized back into the community. 

Adrienne Young
Adrienne completed a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology with a minor in Family Studies at the University of British Columbia and a Master’s of Social Work in Macro Practice at Boston University. Adrienne’s research interests are centered around understanding processes to overcome barriers to authentically including youth voice in organizations and communities. In her work at the Family Navigation Project at Sunnybrook Adrienne is partnering with stakeholders to develop and implement a youth engagement strategy. Outside of her professional interests, Adrienne is strong advocate for Indigenous rights and enjoys hiking and being outdoors. 

Hannah Laird
Hannah Laird is a certified youth mental health speaker who has a passion for advocating mental health rights. Hannah works at the Newcomer Centre of Peel, counselling parents and their children as they settle in Canada. Hannah also completes research with Sunnybrook Hospital’s Family Navigation Project, a program designed to help families navigate our current mental health and addiction services. As a Youth Engagement Partner, Hannah helps advance knowledge, support, and resources with mental health and addiction issues to better meet the needs of youth and their families. The mental health landscape in Canada includes all communities, so Hannah strongly believes in working collectively towards keeping it an inclusive matter.

Key takeaways

  • FNP supports youth 13-26 with MHA concerns and their families in the GTA
  • To access services, FNP must be contacted directly, then will set the youth up with a navigator to create an individualized plan
  • Youth need to feel a sense of connection to program to feel comfortable to use the service

Framework for FNP:

  • Youth-centred care
    • Resonant care options, comprehensive approach, use of technology in care, developmental approaches, recovery-oriented
  • Consideration of Family
    • Confidentiality, considering caregiver needs (support, education)
  • Sense of connection
    • Promoting trust in care, rapport, authenticity, reliability in services, safe spaces (emotional & physical), caring adults, youth engagement training
  • Continuity of Care
    • Undisrupted care, supports in transitions, ongoing supports
  • Empowering youth
    • Support autonomy, psychoeducation
  • Enhancing knowledge of care options
    • Developing awareness of system and services, self navigation, information needs
  • Equity, diversity and inclusion
    • Affordability, eligibility, reduced wait times, race and culture, geographical location, representation, gender 

Key Learning Objectives (defined by presenters)

Through our session, we hope that participants will:

  1. Identify the ways that navigation services can engage with and support youth in their care trajectories
  2. Develop an understanding of what to consider when engaging youth at their organizations and in their own work
  3. Describe the importance of partnerships and innovative approaches in youth engagement and outreach

Key Themes

  1. Youth engagement
  2. Wrap around care

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