International conference provides forum for ideas to improve youth mental health and addictions care

Posted by

Supporting a child struggling with their mental health can be a lonely road for parents – especially in the beginning.

Parents can feel lost in the health system, says Wendy MinHinnett, of Rollercoaster Family Support, a UK-based parent and carer support venture. For MinHinnet, the project was personal, created eight years ago out of necessity.

On February 22 and 23, Wendy will join care providers, parents, carers and youth around the world – as a presenter at the 2nd International Choice and Partnership Approach (CAPA) Conference.

Free to students, youth and families – the CAPA Conference is sponsored by the University Hospital of North Norway, Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario Foundation, and IWK Health. The planning committee also includes members from the United Kingdom and New Zealand, as well as parent and youth representatives.

Attendees will learn about a model of care founded on shared-decision-making, collaboration and what’s most important to the people receiving mental health and addictions treatment.

And while designed for clinicians looking to improve service delivery – the conference is also a forum for youth, parents, and caregivers to share their lived experiences.

“Mental health care only works if we know what people want and they have opportunities to provide feedback and influence the systems we work in,” says Dr. Ann York, UK-based child and adolescent psychiatrist and co-founder of CAPA.

“The conference provides an avenue to hear youth and family voices and stories and for clinicians to understand what we can do to make these experiences better,” Dr. York says.

“If your child gets sick or is injured, most of us know what happens within the medical system. We’re familiar with x-rays and blood tests and what to expect of a doctor’s visit or even a trip to the Emerg,” says Kathleen Martin, a mother in Halifax, where the IWK Mental Health and Addictions program implements the CAPA program.

“What is not always as evident is what happens if your child has a mental health issue. I think It’s helpful to learn about how the mental health care system works—how you access it, what happens within it. There is a great relief for parents when they learn how family oriented, cooperative, and supportive the CAPA system is,” says Martin, who is also a presenter at this year’s event.

IWK Health overhauled its service model just ten years ago – a change that brought shorter wait times and immediate access to care for those in crisis.

“Systems only change when the people inside it say, ‘this is no longer acceptable to me’ and deliberately choose to create change. It takes an acute sense of responsibility to the communities you serve to do this — and it takes courage and tenacity. The IWK mental health team is doing that. As a result, we have an extraordinary system here in Nova Scotia. We are so lucky.” – Kathleen Martin

Wendy MinHinnett says she and her team at Rollercoaster realized the work they were doing naturally fit with the CAPA model when they partnered with their local children’s MHA services in North East England.

“I’ll never forget the first person to walk through the door,” she says, “We thought ‘right. Keep going. This is needed. Somebody else is in a similar position.’ Fast forward eight years later and we’re now a fully commissioned service.”

Rollercoaster connects parents and carers with peer support, through Facebook groups, in-person and Zoom meetings, as well as one-on-one supports.

“Parents are part of the workforce in children’s mental health care if they want to be. Who better to be part of the care than the people delivering it 24 hours a day?” says MinHinnett.

MinHinnett will highlight the magic of parent carer peer support (PCPS), through Rollercoaster’s collaborative work with the Charlie Waller Trust, a UK-based charity. Together, they are developing training and support for PCPS populations – a growing workforce.

To learn more about the program or to register, visit