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New mental health program for Toronto youth leaving the child welfare system

Children’s Aid Foundation of Canada launches Connections, a youth-in-transition mental health hub

(TORONTO – April 10, 2019) – A new Children’s Aid Foundation of Canada program aimed at providing faster access to mental health supports is now available through a partnership with the Children’s Aid Society of Toronto. Since September, Connections has helped 158 young people in Toronto access mental health services, art therapy sessions and assisted young people with the financial resources required to pursue counselling and therapy in the community.


The youth-in-transition mental health hub was created by Children’s Aid Foundation of Canada in response to a persistent need by former youth in care who urgently require mental health services yet do not know where to turn to for help or feel discouraged from seeking assistance due to service gaps and long wait lists. They often suffer from unaddressed mental health issues due to early life traumatic experiences of abuse and neglect, which can cause lasting effects into adulthood. Children and youth in care are almost four times as likely to be diagnosed with a mental health disorder compared to children in the general population.


Many youth transitioning out of care starting at age 18 are referred to practitioners in the adult mental health services sector yet fail to make the connection to the service. Youth often don’t have the support they need in attending appointments or experience a lack of trust in meeting with someone who was not part of their support network while in care of the child welfare system. As a result, after missed appointments, their file is closed and there is no follow-up, leaving former youth in care without access to the mental health services they urgently require.


“To truly support this population of youth in their successful transition out of care, we identified a critical need to create better access to the mental health services for youth so that they can address their past trauma and move forward with their future,” says Valerie McMurtry, President and CEO, Children’s Aid Foundation of Canada, the country’s leading charity dedicated to improving the lives of children and youth growing up in the child welfare system. “Connections is designed to provide a familiar and trusted service to young people formerly from care when they are ready to seek help.”


In Toronto, there are approximately 2,500 youth, as young as age 18 to 29 years of age who are transitioning or have left the care of the child welfare system and continue to struggle on their own. They are no longer eligible for the type of support they received in care and must find the means and resources to establish an independent life. This can be overwhelming and make it difficult for youth to cope, especially since they do not have the financial or emotional support from a permanent family.


Implemented by Children’s Aid Society of Toronto (CAS of Toronto), the aim of Connections is to successfully bridge youth from care into adult services. The program’s mental health navigator meets with youth, conducts a wellness assessment and creates a customized care plan that assists youth to get the help they need within a short time period. Through established partnerships, the navigator identifies appropriate mental health experts and services available in the community and helps remove any barriers for youth in accessing these services, ultimately facilitating a smooth transition to adult services.


The type of support provided through Connections includes one-on-one counselling with trauma-focused cognitive behavioural therapists; comprehensive assessments by an in-house primary care physician and psychiatrist; system navigation and referrals to established community services and partners. In addition, the mental health navigator works with an existing multidisciplinary team of health professionals at CAS of Toronto to identify any areas that may impact a youth’s mental health, such as physical health issues, vocational barriers, or lack of stable housing, and provides wraparound services in partnership with child and youth workers.


The program is available for young people between the ages of 18 and 29 who are transitioning or have already transitioned from care and live in the Greater Toronto Area. Connections can be accessed directly through CAS of Toronto and at the community-based Pape Adolescent Resource Centre and is funded by Children’s Aid Foundation of Canada through the program’s founding donor, The We Know Foundation, and supported by Medavie, Bell Let’s Talk and HBC Foundation.


Connections builds on Healthy Minds, a Children’s Aid Foundation of Canada pilot program offered through CAS of Toronto, which provided children and youth in care with trauma-focused cognitive behavioural therapy with a local, community-based mental health practitioner for 8 to 12 weeks. The therapy focused on learning new ways of thinking and behaving in order to help them better cope with anxiety, depression and trauma. From the pilot program, Children’s Aid Foundation of Canada learned that some youth in care who experienced chronic and complex trauma are not always ready to seek treatment until they are older and when youth are ready, their needs must be met in a quick and sustainable manner.


About Children’s Aid Foundation of Canada

Children’s Aid Foundation of Canada is our country’s leading charity dedicated to improving the lives of children and youth growing up in the child welfare system. We raise and grant funds, and deliver a wide range of high-impact programs and services in partnership with 77 child- and youth-serving agencies across the country that support more than 22,700 vulnerable young people annually. Stand Up for Kids is our national campaign for child welfare, which aims to change the futures of Canada’s most at-risk kids – those who have experienced abuse and neglect. We know that by helping these young people to overcome their trauma and break the cycle for future generations, they gain the strength and resilience to create a lifetime of their own unstoppable successes. Learn more at

For more information:

Lisa Lipkin
Lisa Lipkin Communications; 416-988-4189