As you listen today, stop and think about how much work has been done in a year,” Dr. Brian Rush told a packed conference room recently. “I’ve just been blown away by the level of cooperation across the system.”
He was addressing stakeholders of the Ontario Service and System Projects, funded by the Drug Treatment Funding Program (DTFP). Researchers, service providers, policymakers, and others had gathered for an all-day knowledge exchange event, kicked off by Sheree Davis, Director of the Community and Population Branch of the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care. Ms. Davis emphasized the importance of focusing on children and youth before giving the floor to a series of engaging presenters. On the agenda: the progress the DTFP projects have made to date.
Developed in 2008 by Health Canada, the DTFP is a federal contribution program designed to support provinces and territories in their efforts to strengthen evidence-informed substance abuse treatment systems, and address critical gaps in substance abuse treatment services, particularly for at-risk youth. Eleven Ontario Systems Projects and seven Service Level Projects have taken root in Ontario.
“We’ve built a lot of collaboration capital,” Dr. Rush told attendees. “DTFP has also put Ontario in a national context.” The lead on four of the Ontario Systems Projects, Rush has been focused on improving assessment and performance monitoring in Ontario’s addiction treatment system. The title of his presentation said it all: “Planting the Seeds for System Change.”
David Kelly and Janis Cramp, from the newly amalgamated Addictions and Mental Health Ontario, took the stage and extended the theme. (Kelly is lead on the Supportive Housing Evaluation Project; Cramp, the lead on the Peer Support Services Project and the Residential Support Services Project.) An animated speaker, Kelly stressed the importance of making sure the seeds that have been planted continue to grow.
“No change happens without collaboration across the sector, a good change management plan, and knowledge development and exchange,” he added.
Janis Cramp seconded the importance of knowledge exchange (also known as “KE”) when she drew attention to Evidence Exchange Network (EENet). One of the eleven Ontario Systems Projects, EENet is a KE network that aims to make the province’s addiction and mental health system more evidence-informed. Among its many initiatives, EENet is supporting the KE needs for the other ten projects.
“They’ve done an amazing job creating comprehensive but succinct information,” said Cramp.
Sessions followed on the Ontario Service Projects, with a look at youth-focused initiatives like Rebound Choices and Project S.T.E.P. Rebound Choices supports young people between the ages of 12-17. The focus is substance abuse prevention and helping young people develop constructive social skills. Project S.T.E.P., on the other hand, helps youth make informed decisions and get early counseling. It’s provided in all of Ottawa’s high schools and several community agencies. Earlier in the day, Cindy Smythe and Ruth Stoddart had noted the impact the service projects will have on the system.
In the afternoon, Nancy Bradley, from the Jean Tweed Centre, and the lead on the Trauma and Substance Use Project, addressed what it means for practices to be trauma-informed. Dr. Rush gave attendees a closer look at his specific projects. And Heather Bullock, EENet’s leader, applauded the sheer amount of productive energy generated by the DTFP.
“It’s amazing how much activity has happened and how quickly the system mobilized,” noted Bullock.
Sessions on just how to evaluate of all this activity rounded out the day, with Sanjeev Sridharan stressing the challenges involved in bringing about system change. That said, Sridharan, Director of the Evaluation Centre for Complex Health Interventions, was able to point to some promising outcomes and early learnings. He also emphasized the value of EENet as a mechanism for getting the word out about the Ontario Systems Projects.
“Planning for uptake has to happen now,” he said.
The day-long knowledge sharing event was part of a larger two-day conference, hosted by the Ontario Federation of Community Mental Health and Addiction Programs, the Ontario Association of Patient Councils, and the Ontario Peer Development Initiative. To learn more about the projects, and to get a quarterly newsletter, click here.