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Intersect Youth and Family Services keeps up with demand

Most months, the number of Prince George children and youth needing support from Intersect Youth and Family Services ticks along at around 15 to 20 new intakes a month.

Things stayed at that level through 2020 as the COVID-19 pandemic settled in.

Then in January 2021, intakes tripled to 45 and demand has stayed high. Intersect executive director Shannon Croy noted the common feelings of weariness, frustration, isolation and disappointment people around the world are trying to manage are clearly being felt by young people as well.

“I think people are really getting burned out,” Croy said. “They’re not OK.”

Founded in 1984, Intersect serves approximately 500 children and youth a year through a mix of mental health services, supports for youth in the justice system and a partnership with the Prince George school district that provides an alternative Grade 8-12 school with extra mental health supports in the Intersect building.

The pandemic has caused much stress to community social service organizations as well, as agencies struggled to rapidly reshape vital human services to meet pandemic measures. Intersect is proud to have kept its services going throughout the pandemic, Croy said.

“We never closed down. We continued to operate – safely, but never closed,” she said. “The biggest thing I’ve seen in this past year is just how adaptable people are. Our team knows how important our services are. Mental health services are health care – there’s no option to say, ‘we’re done,’ or to close down for a while. We know our kids need us now more than ever.”

The majority of B.C.’s Child and Youth Mental Health services are provided directly by the Ministry of Children and Family Development at its own community branches. But the ministry does contract in some communities with providers, including Intersect, which holds the largest non-ministry contract for mental health services for children and youth in the province. Intersect provides mental health assessments and treatment options for children and youth up to age 18 through that contract.

“Children, youth and their families have faced incredible challenges over the past year as they’ve been asked to change their routines, cancel their activities and remain flexible and vigilant in an environment that is constantly changing,” said Mitzi Dean, Minister of Children and Family Development. “Now, more than ever, it’s vital to break down barriers – like Intersect is doing – and work together to better support those who are struggling.”

The ministry also funds Intersect’s New Directions service, which is part of the Youth Justice Program. The outreach and support services connect with youth who have active probation orders to help them set and achieve goals in whatever way works for the youth. That can be counselling or something less formal, like providing healthy social interactions by taking a youth out for a game of pool.

Intersect is also one of the partners in the Prince George Foundry, which opened in 2017. Foundry is a network of youth centres and online supports throughout B.C. that removes barriers and increases access to health and wellness services for young people ages 12-24 and their caregivers. Foundry offers integrated mental health care, substance use services, primary and sexual health care, youth and family peer support, and social services.

The pandemic forced a shift to more virtual services and different ways of delivering support. Having virtual services has turned out well for some of Intersect’s young clients, Croy noted, though the most social ones have had a difficult time.

“The kids are so individual, but some have really flourished with less pressure to show up places, a break from having to be in class,” she said. “Others are very social and struggling.”

That latter group of young people will be glad for a time when more face-to-face services can return, she adds. But virtual services will also continue now that Intersect has seen how well they work for some of the people the organization serves.

“I’ve always wanted to add in provision of virtual services here,” Croy said. “Well, now that we’ve got it figured out, we’ll do great at it and we’ll keep it going. It has some big benefits for our clients.”

The B.C. government has proclaimed March as Community Social Services Awareness Month in appreciation of the hard work of the more than 42,000 people who work in the community social services sector. They provide help and assistance to those who need it most.

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