Co-operators awards $300,000 grant for youth mental health research at York

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A $300,000 gift from Co-operators will establish an innovative research fund to enhance resilience and combat mental health struggles among youth in Canada through initiatives at York University.

The new Co-operators’ Accelerator Fund for Youth Mental Health Research is dedicated to decreasing the prevalence and severity of mental health struggles and bolstering the resilience of underserved youth in Canada.

Specifically, the Accelerator Fund aims to support practical and impactful mental health research focused on young people aged 18 to 25 years old. Priority is given to those projects that are already underway or have the potential for short-term implementation, have evidence-based frameworks and have the potential for scalability and tangible community impact.

Recognizing that young adults face disproportionate mental health challenges during the transition between adolescence and adulthood, Co-operators has chosen to focus the efforts of their social wellness pillar exclusively on improving mental health for young people at this critical junction in their lives.

“We believe that equipping youth with the mental health tools they need to thrive is an essential part of setting them up for success long-term,” says Jessica Fisher, senior partnerships and social impact advisor at Co-operators. “The work being done at York University’s LaMarsh Centre for Child and Youth Research aligns well with the impact we’re hoping to have on young adults across the country.”

Adds Fisher, “Co-operators is particularly excited about funding opportunities that are community-led and have the potential for broader influence.”

The Accelerator Fund’s first project is set to make strides on both fronts.

Led by Dr. Jennifer Connolly, professor and Chair of the Psychology program at York, and Dr. Jennine Rawana, associate professor of psychology and head of Calumet College, the grant’s inaugural initiative will scale up the community-based Milestones Program for youth transitioning from Child Protective Services to independent living. This project, created by foster parents at Simcoe Muskoka Family Connexions (SMFC), an integrated child and family services agency, aims to provide the necessary supports youth need for a successful transition into adulthood.

Youth who are involved with child protective services or living in out-of-home care face significant challenges to their mental health and well-being due to insufficient support during this critical time of change. Despite current Ministry directions to better assist them during this critical life stage, there are few evidence-based programs available to meet their unique needs.

With support from the Co-operators Accelerator Grant, Connolly and Rawana aim to develop a modified Milestones Program to better support youth, and deliver helpful online resources, publications and presentations to the Ministry and Child Protective Services, as well as for parents and workers who are supporting youth through their transitions.

“Co-operators is excited about the potential scalability of this work,” says Fisher. “The project has tremendous potential to positively impact at-risk youth.”

As an expendable grant, the Co-operators’ Accelerator Fund will support innovative and forward-thinking research initiatives at the LaMarsh Centre for the next three years. Grant recipients are selected by an independent selection committee based on the successful submission of a competitive application.

“The Co-operators Accelerator Fund will undoubtedly have deep and long-lasting effects on the lives of Canadian youth,” says Faculty of Health Dean David Peters. “This support is a testament to Co-operators’ commitment to being a catalyst for sustainable and resilient communities and their dedication to fuelling a brighter future for young people from across the country.”