Island Health bolsters youth outreach and support across Vancouver Island

Youth experiencing serious substance use challenges have benefited from enhanced outreach and support services in communities across Vancouver Island, thanks to Y-STAR teams established throughout 2022.

Y-STAR stands for Youth Short Term Assessment and Response; the new or expanded teams are based in Campbell River, Cowichan, Nanaimo, Port Alberni, Port Hardy and Victoria.

“The well-being of youth is our top priority – every young person in British Columbia deserves access to services that meet their unique needs,” says Jennifer Whiteside, minister of mental health and addictions. “These new and expanded Y-STAR teams will help more young people and their families get the supports they need and deserve.”

Y-STAR teams work to improve the mental health and social functioning of youth, support substance use treatment, distribute harm reduction resources, and help navigate access to other resources and care for youth and their families/caregivers. The teams can include Mental Health and Substance Use (MHSU) crisis nurses, social workers, counsellors, clinicians and youth/family support workers.

“The makeup of each Y-STAR team is unique to the community they serve and based on local needs,” says Leah Hollins, Island Health board chair. “Each team is dedicated to supporting youth with an approach that is trauma-informed and culturally safe when connecting youth with community-based services and supports.”

Y-STAR teams respond to youth with significant substance use concerns (who may or may not have co-occurring mental health concerns) in community locales such as schools, homes, parks and street-based settings. Teams also engage with youth presenting at emergency departments or after they are discharged.

“You can always rely on Y-STAR to find the right support at the right time,” says Tenille Lindsay, clinical coordinator for Child, Youth & Family MHSU services who is involved with Y-STAR teams in Port Alberni, Port Hardy and Campbell River. “We respond urgently to the youth in our communities.”

Y-STAR team members are embedded in the communities they work in – enabling them to build relationships and trust with their young clients and ensure an in-depth knowledge of community supports. Y-STAR teams also build on existing services in Island communities, such as Discovery Youth & Family Substance Use Services.

“Y-STAR’s launch has filled an essential gap in mental health and substance use services for youth,” says Georjeana Paterson, program coordinator for Child, Youth & Family Mental Health Acute Care in Nanaimo. “These caring teams of individuals have had success with supporting some of Vancouver Island’s most vulnerable youth, through compassionate engagement and meaningful relationships.”

“Cowichan Y-STAR is making a significant difference in the lives of vulnerable youth and their families,” adds Douglas Hardie, program coordinator at Discovery Youth & Family Substance Use Services. “Our multi-disciplinary team provides engagement and clinical support across a continuum of services, from engagement and outreach, to counselling and access to substance use treatment.”

Access to Y-STAR is via referral from emergency departments, clinicians with Island Health’s Child, Youth & Family MHSU Services, pediatricians, and family physicians or nurse practitioners.

“Victoria Y-STAR is continuing to evolve and grow to support youth in the community in partnership with the many existing services in the South Island,” notes Susie Girling, program coordinator with Child, Youth & Family MHSU services. “The team provides a seamless transition into the community from Victoria General Hospital and works with key partners to reduce the need to attend the emergency department where possible.”