How to Assess Youth in Crisis

youth in crisis

Adolescence can be challenging for any teenager. From exploring their sexuality to relationships to dealing with life-interfering behaviors and/or destructive thoughts, teens may have difficulties.

Due to armed conflict, poverty and collapsed economies, many youth find themselves stuck between childhood and adulthood. They want to become independent, but lack the opportunity to do so.


A comprehensive assessment is a crucial first step to help youth overcome their problems and become productive members of society. To make this possible, the assessment process must be targeted to the young person’s needs and take into account the underlying risk factors of the problem behaviour.

The YASI is an assessment tool that helps determine the level of service required for each individual youth. Intensive services should be reserved for high-risk cases, while lower levels of intervention may be appropriate for low-risk cases. This tool is also useful for re-assessing and monitoring a youth’s progress in the program.

SASSI-A2 is a screening instrument that is designed to identify young people at risk of substance abuse and addiction. It consists of direct and indirect subscales that operate dynamically together to screen for substance use disorders regardless of the young person’s honesty or motivation (SASSI Institute).


There are many reasons a teen may be in crisis. They could be struggling with an addiction, a mental health condition, or other issues that lead to risky behavior and serious consequences. Professional interventionists are trained to quickly identify the underlying factors and provide the necessary support.

Youth in crisis need someone to listen and understand them. They also need to feel safe and supported. They need a trusted adult who will help them navigate their situation and care for their emotional and physical needs.

During the pandemic, high numbers of young people experienced feelings of persistent sadness or hopelessness. Their lives were disrupted by the uncertainty of school and work schedules, lack of resources due to the pandemic, strained relationships at home, and sociopolitical concerns like systemic racism and gun violence. These situations can often lead to suicide, which is why youth need a rapid, coordinated response from all systems. Unlike adults, who are often treated in hospital emergency departments, youth need a dedicated crisis response service that is based on the SAMHSA national guidelines.

Supporting the Family/Caregiver(s)

Youth who care for family members have additional, unique needs. These students juggle school work and significant responsibilities at home, often needing course extensions or flexibility with their assignments when they have to take their loved one to urgent care on a day they normally would attend group class.

The COVID-19 pandemic has likely increased the number of young people assuming caregiving duties, and the duration and intensity of their caring may have intensified. In addition, depleted social services and uneven health care access further contribute to household structures that make youth more likely to assume responsibility for the care of aging or ill family members (AARP & National Alliance for Caregiving, 2020).

When designing crisis stabilization programs, it is important to identify and support youth who are caregiving. Schools and school social workers should be trained to identify this student population. Moreover, children who provide care should be eligible to receive the same services as their peers in crisis, including community-based treatment and support services.

Step-Down Care

Youth in crisis are able to “step down” from a high level of care at the hospital to more community-based services. This allows a young person to be stabilized and connected with resources to avoid a relapse or possible suicide attempt.

Mobile crisis teams offer assistance via phone, walk-in clinics or psychiatric urgent care centers. They provide pre-screening assessments, act as gatekeepers for inpatient hospitalization and connect an individual with available supports.

Intensive crisis residential programs serve as alternatives to hospitalization and also as step-down settings upon discharge from a hospital. They can offer physical and psychiatric support, crisis stabilization, daily living skills training and counseling.

The goal is to reunify youth with their family if possible. If not, the YCT team will locate other living options for them. The team will then engage the family in the process, and working side-by-side help them to connect with services and supports to make the transition successful.