Effective support for acutely high-risk youth must address their most pressing needs while leveraging their greatest strengths.  With that in mind, Get IN Chicago’s Strengthening Youth through a Network of Care (SYNC) initiative embeds individualized treatment plans into its programming.  In particular, the SYNC intake system utilizes the Child and Adolescent Needs and Strengths (CANS) assessment to create a comprehensive understanding of participants from the start.

CANS is a multi-purpose tool designed to support meaningful decision-making, care, and service planning among child welfare professionals, juvenile justice agencies, mental health professionals, and families.  In addition to documenting and prioritizing needs and assets, CANS is also beneficial for setting baselines and tracking improvement.

CANS Praed Foundation Get IN Chicago

(Photo via Praed Foundation)

The SYNC team uses the CANS assessment to understand needs such as hunger, trauma, and risk behaviors like substance abuse and involvement in criminal activity.  The CANS also allows providers to identify family assets and needs, such as housing and employment support, in order to make appropriate referrals and connections.

Initial findings from a report of 2017 SYNC CANS assessments highlighted profiles of a cohort of 191 participants.  The implications of this data are meaningful as Get IN Chicago develops new partnerships to reflect a more comprehensive picture of the needs of acutely high-risk youth.

Key Findings – CANS Assessments

  • 70% of youth reported trauma exposure, and more than half of that group reported traumatic symptoms related to that exposure.
  • Half of youth requested assistance with anger control and aggression.
  • 1 in 5 youth reported symptoms of Depression, including irritability or depressed mood, social withdrawal, sleep disturbances, weight/eating disturbances, and loss of motivation.
  • While caregiver supports, connections, and resilience were areas that were least identified, youth named the ability for a parent to communicate and effectively listen as a top priority.

charts illustrating CANS findings

Youth also self-identified areas in which they would like more immediate support.  More than half (57%) requested academic support, with school attendance support (37.5%) and employment support (27%) also ranking high.

Moving forward, Get IN Chicago and SYNC providers will be working to make linkages around these needed services.  Youth with trauma exposure and symptoms are especially well-positioned to benefit from the case management, mentoring, and therapy services provided by SYNC.  Case management staff recommend incorporating these findings into future action plans, both on an individual level and through positive peer groups and activities.  Additionally, family engagement programs supported by Get IN Chicago, which focus on parenting teens, hold promise to benefit many SYNC participants and their caregivers.