Equity IS Engagement: Building Capacity for Meaningful Change - CMHO Conference

Equity and engagement work are often considered separate priorities within child and youth mental health and addictions (CYMHA). Resource constraints and time pressures often create false choices between equally worthwhile endeavours. In actuality, the purpose, goals, processes and intended outcomes of equity and engagement work often overlap, creating opportunities for more effective and efficient planning that results in a more meaningful impact on programs, services and systems.

CMHO Facilitators.

This hands-on workshop presented by Louise Murray-Leung (Engagement Specialist and family member with lived experience), Haruka Kanai (Engagement Specialist) and Michelle Chin (Bilingual Knowledge Broker) built participant capacity for practicing equitable youth and family engagement.

The workshop included facilitated ‘knowledge bursts’ linked to small group activities, dialogues, and networking or knowledge exchange, such as an introductory self-assessment, a world cafe knowledge burst and small group activity

Participants left with an understanding of how to approach engagement work with an integrated equity and engagement lens.

Conference date: November 20, 2023, 11:00 - 12:00 p.m. EST


Learning objectives 


Before the start of the workshop, participants engaged in a self-assessment exercise using sticky notes to evaluate their current position on the Equity and Engagement Dual Continuum (Figure 1). Facilitators used this activity to help participants foster awareness of their current standing on the continuum (Figure 2).

Figure 1: Equity and Engagement Dual Continuum
Equity and Engagement Dual Continuum. Equity. Equity Engagement Dual Continuum. Engagement.
Figure 2: Self-assessment results
Equity and Engagement Dual Continuum. Self-assessment results. Equity.Equity and Engagement Dual Continuum. Self-assessment results. Engagement.


World cafe knowledge burst

In this activity, participants engaged with four posters, each highlighting key engagement and equity work themes. These themes encompass crucial principles affecting youth and family experiences. Each poster included a prompt (i.e. ‘Traffic light’) illustrating youth and family impact or experiences in positive and challenging scenarios and space for individuals to contribute their thoughts, points, facts, questions, etc.

Youth Engagement Traffic Light

Youth Engagement Traffic Light


Activity 1

Scenario 1: A young person with a diverse identity (e.g. a queer youth or Indigenous youth) is asked to sit on an advisory committee and is expected, by default, to speak for all young people that share their identity. 

Some responses included:

  • Tokenism
  • Overwhelming
  • Feeling pressured
  • Misses other experiences because you have the “one” spokesperson

Scenario 2: A young person is given a script to speak on behalf of an organization but has little to no understanding of the issue heard. 

Some responses included: 

  • Manipulation
  • Low to negative impact
  • No intention for genuine engagement
Activity 2
Activity 3

Scenario 3: A youth* or family is asked to join a team of adults but not given space or tools to contribute meaningfully. Staff may occasionally ask for their ideas. Staff make the decisions and do the work. 

Some responses included: 

  • Decoration
  • Further harm to marginalized communities
  • May feel unheard and frustrated without a purpose. May feel used.

Scenario 4: Family members sit on a board, providing advice, direction and input on strategic plans and policies. 

Some responses included: 

  • Starting to engage in conversations but no accountability for impact
  • Consulted
  • Family is important but cannot be viewed as in place of youth

Activity 4

Small group activity 

In this activity, participants worked in groups to discuss detailed scenarios and identify: 

  1. Two to three possible decisions linking to equity and engagement best practices
  2. Applicable level(s) of engagement, and 
  3. Potential impacts.

Participants were encouraged to utilize the Youth Engagement Traffic Light, the Equity and Engagement Dual Continuum, and Hart's Ladder of Engagement with Decision-Making Process (shown below) when completing this group activity. 

Hart's Ladder of Engagement with Decision-Making Process

Hart's Ladder of Decision-Making Process.

Some responses from the small group activity included:

Looking ahead

The Youth and Family Mentorship, Engagement, and Co-Design Community of Interest (CoI) seeks to form an advisory committee for co-designing a self-directed, accessible online community. This platform aims to connect young people and families with lived/living experience, fostering inclusivity and support across diverse communities and identities. Separate spaces for youth, families and an integrated space will be developed to discuss organization/system engagement and service co-design. 

For more information about this CoI, please get in touch with Michelle Chin (michelle.chin@camh.ca) and Louise Murray-Leung (murrayll@mcmaster.ca).

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