During the Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2024, meeting of Kingston City Council, members voted to approve funding for a new initiative which seeks to reduce rates of substance use among area youth. The initiative, led by Kingston Community Health Centres (KCHC), could soon see the organization offer services through the Icelandic Prevention Model, as part of the Planet Youth program.
During Tuesday’s meeting, councillors heard from Roger Romero, Manager of Youth Services for KCHC, who spoke to a report from City staff that outlined the purpose of the Planet Youth program and recommended $30,000 in funding from the City of Kingston, through the Working Fund Reserve, to help make the program a reality.
According to its website, Planet Youth is a “research consultancy program” that guides organizations around the world who are seeking to implement the Icelandic Prevention Model. The model was first used in the 1990s as a way to combat drug use among young people in Iceland’s capital, Reykjavík, using a collaborative approach among local stakeholders. As Romero explained, the program’s ability to bring together a variety of stakeholders within a given community makes it a unique model.
“What’s really interesting about this model,” he said, “is that it was connected between not only the service agencies — the providers of services in the community — but [it was also] very important that there was municipal support. The mayors led this work in that community.”
In his briefing, Romero explained to councillors that the first iteration of the Icelandic Model’s use resulted in a 65 per cent reduction of substance use among youth in the community within its first year. He added, “They did some really cool things in Iceland to help young people become more engaged in their community [and] to become more connected as a whole, and made some really great leaps and bounds.”
In order to bring the Icelandic Prevention Model to Kingston, Romero and his colleagues intend to launch an official Planet Youth program at KCHC.
According to Bridget Glassco, project manager for the Adverse Childhood Experiences and Resilience Coalition of Kingston, Frontenac, Lennox and Addington (KFL&A), Kingston is “well-positioned” to implement the Icelandic Model within the community.
Glassco said, “There’s strong momentum in our region and a unified sense of purpose, and we feel we’re well positioned for this work. We have a robust network… who are really committed to working together to build a more resilient community, where children, youth, and families can thrive.”
In requesting $30,000 from the City of Kingston, Romero and his colleagues are hoping to use the funds to demonstrate the program’s viability to the federal government, as the organization pursues a grant from the Public Health Agency of Canada’s new “Youth Substance Use Prevention Program,” through the “Incubator and Capacity Building” stream, which has an application deadline of January 15, 2024.
While the briefing to Council made specific mention of KCHC’s ongoing work to support youth in the city’s north end, Kingscourt-Rideau Councillor Brandon Tozzo asked how the organization intends to implement the program throughout the wider community.
“I know that the north end is a high needs community, but it’s not just there, it’s all parts of the city that are really experiencing a drug addiction crisis,” he remarked.
Romero responded that many of the outstanding questions related to the program’s implementation will be answered through the first phase of federal funding.
“We have to figure out what the need is, where the pockets of challenges are, and phase one is all about just collecting data [and] collecting feedback from community members,” he said, noting that this first phase will include various forms of community engagement, such as town halls and school visits.
Romero added the program has already received support from local school boards, which is critical to the success of the model: “To have a really strong application, you have to have school board involvement… This time, we’ve been able to get into the schools. The Icelandic Model is all through the schools, so you’re not missing any young people.”
This point drew supportive comments from Portsmouth Councillor Don Amos, who said, “It’s good to hear that it’s going to be implemented through the whole school system and that the school boards are signing off on it.”
Asked to comment on the severity of the current situation in Kingston, Anne Marie McDonald, co-chair of the Adverse Childhood Experiences and Resilience Coalition of KFL&A, said, “Being a school administrator for over 15 years, I have been in communities… that have been much harder hit by issues such as this, and yet I am [currently] supporting a demographic that is very different, and I’ve never seen this much before,” as she explained the number of local students who are being referred or suspended has increased in recent years.
Romero added, “Part of [KCHC] is the Street Health Centre and the Ontario Harm Reduction Program. We have never, ever had children in those programs, and we never want to get into that business… [But] for us here, we are seeing it now as young as 10 [or] 11 years old, [with] deep, deep substance use disorders.”
Asked to provide specifics on what the implementation of the Icelandic Model might look like in the KFL&A region, Romero noted, “There’s a variety of implementation methods the Icelandic Model [uses],” including strengthening relationships between area youth and community-based organizations.
“One of the things that we’re doing is helping organizations understand how to connect with young people in a meaningful way,” he added.
The Planet Youth program in KFL&A will also include a biennial survey, providing key insights on youth development among those aged 15 to 16 (Grade 10). According to Glassco, the results of the survey will inform future intervention strategies.
“Through what we learn from the surveys,” she explained, “we can then tailor intervention specifically for the neighbourhoods in our community, and for the families in our community, based on the risk factors and the protective factors that have been identified.”
When the staff report was brought forward for deliberation, councillors approved the funding request unanimously, without discussion. Officials with KCHC now have until Monday, Jan. 15, 2024, to finalize the federal funding application.
The agenda from this meeting of Kingston City Council can be found on the City of Kingston’s council meetings webpage, and the meeting can be viewed in its entirety on the Kingston City Council YouTube channel.