Wednesday, June 15, 2016

REHAB FACILITIES NEEDED NOW MORE THAN EVER By: Chuck Doucette and David Berner Opinion in the Winnipeg Free Press June 15, 2016

RCMP at the Behavioral Health Foundation in late May.

Thanks to Jessica Hadley, President of the Child & Youth Care Workers’ Association of Manitoba for her excellent, timely and well-balanced commentary (Fear, frustration the norm for youth-care workers, June 7).

Ms. Hadley was writing about the May 29 attack on two workers — including a Red River College student finishing her practicum — committed by two teenage residents at the Behavioural Health Foundation’s facility in Selkirk.

The workers were viciously assaulted with a baseball bat and billiard balls and suffered serious injuries — the student is now blind in one eye — and trauma. The purpose of this obscenity, it’s believed, was to steal a truck and go party.

Over the years, BHF staff have been threatened and assaulted and there have been attempts to burn down the facility.Residents assault each other in every way imaginable and, in some cases, quite unimaginable ways.

But this is the most extreme and dreadful incident in BHF’s 45 years operating in Manitoba.

The male youth facility — which had been scheduled to close for good on June 25 — typically housed between 10 and 14 high-risk youths. Staff were scheduled at a ratio of one to four youths, except on overnight shifts, which met the licensing and accreditation standards. Many group homes have staff with considerably less.

The residents are volatile youths who come from families torn apart by generations of violence, drug and alcohol abuse, criminality and scant regard for what most people would consider basic human values.

For reasons unclear to anyone at this point, there has been a steadily increasing unwillingness to continue funding and sending at-risk youths to this wonderful program. In 2014, the BHF in Selkirk was told it was going to be shut down because of funding. In fact, the only reason why the facility remained open was so that the Red River College student could get the practicum hours needed in order to obtain her diploma.

To be clear, this kind of violent behaviour is rarely seen in a large group setting, normally the situation at this facility, where they would be surrounded by a peer group of 10 or12 others and a full complement of staff. Because of funding cuts, these two very wound-up boys and their dark histories of violence, addictions and social instabilities were only residents left.

What was BHF supposed to do, throw them out on the street? This is the work BHF has done so well for so many years with singular dedication and knowledge.

And BHF is not alone. Courageous programs across the country dare to bring youths such as this pair into their facilities and dare to embrace them and lead them into a new way of looking at the world. Acceptance, camaraderie and new concepts are thrown at these kids. "Do unto others" or "R-E-S-P-E-C-T." or "Be the Best You!" Young people who have little or no experience with being loved, or even vaguely liked, will present walls and barricades. They are suspicious of good vibes or "square" values. Their lives have been lived in chaos and it is chaos to which they naturally drift. Now they’re being asked to live with peace, reasonableness, kindness and caring for other people. Really?

One of the oldest and best youth programs in the country introduced in a rural setting in British Columbia a few years ago. Ribbons were cut, photos were taken, the funding established and then the local health authorities and the provincial government of the day did everything in their power to stymie the work.

Let’s say a 17-year-old girl says one morning, "Dad, I want to get clean." What’s the window of opportunity? About five seconds.

Reason says that father and daughter get in the car and head for the facility. But health authorities decided that the person in crisis has to be interviewed — several times — in Vancouver before she could even be considered for admission to the rural program. As if these bureaucrats have the faintest notion of how to work with kids in that situation.

This recent event at BHF is awful. But understand that those working on the front lines with volatile people begin with a foundation of trust, love and camaraderie tempered by some serious street smarts.
Today, Behavioural Health Foundation’s main facility in St. Norbert houses some 100 men, women and children, runs school programs, a daycare and myriad other activities, including sophisticated and accredited therapy and counseling.

It has been doing this successfully for more than four decades.

As conscious and conscientious citizens, we need not look far to realize we need BHF now more than ever.

Let us recognize the tragedy for what it is and not make the mistake of throwing out the baby with the bath water.

Chuck Doucette is the president and David Berner is the executive director of Drug Prevention Network Canada.

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