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Stomping out youth violence

Health Sciences Centre ER launches unique program

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Under the pilot program, youth will be paired for up to a year with a counsellor, who will help them with life skills, identify community supports and steer them to partnering agencies for help.

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Under the pilot program, youth will be paired for up to a year with a counsellor, who will help them with life skills, identify community supports and steer them to partnering agencies for help. Photo Store

An HSC emergency room physician has convinced a national funding agency Winnipeg's sky-high rate of violence to youth should be viewed as a public health concern.

Dr. Carolyn Snider is leading a team that will begin approaching injured youth -- while they're at the trauma hospital's adult or children's emergency departments -- to offer counselling.

Snider has received close to $900,000 from the Canadian Institute for Health Research for a two-year pilot project that will determine the value of a hospital-intervention approach based, in part, on programs in San Francisco, Oakland, Calif., and Philadelphia.

At the same time, she and her team will conduct research to determine the cost benefit of instituting a permanent program at the hospital, which could cost about $500,000 a year. The expectation is it could save society a substantial amount of money -- not to mention the physical and emotional pain for the victims and their families.

Snider, who came to Winnipeg two years ago after working in a downtown Toronto emergency department, said the extent of youth violence in Winnipeg is "overwhelming at times."

"It's, sadly, the perfect place to do this research," she said Monday.

Snider's team includes five specially trained youth counsellors -- adults who either experienced violence as youths or whose family was directly affected by it -- a social worker and possibly mental-health and addictions workers.

A counsellor will be called to the ER when a young person seeks treatment. Young people willing to participate in the pilot project will be paired for up to a year with a counsellor, who will help them with life-skills training, identify community supports and steer them to partnering agencies for help.

The Emergency Department Violence Intervention Program (EDVIP) will target youths aged 14 to 24. Many of the young people who wind up in ERs due to violence suffer from anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, Snider noted. Many are impoverished, lack adequate housing "and a sense of belonging."

Not all are gang members, Snider said. The youths she treats for violent injuries represent a broad spectrum of high-risk youth.

Liz Wolff, a program manager and clinician at New Directions, said framing the problem of chronic youth violence as a health concern is "brilliant."

"I think what (Snider is) doing is important in our community, and I think there will be huge benefit to individuals who experience violence," said Wolff, who works with troubled youth, including gang members.

Snider, who also teaches at the U of M and conducts research with the Manitoba Institute of Child Health, said she's gratified the national funder accepted the premise that youth violence is a national health concern.

She said the institute consulted various social agencies in drafting its successful proposal. Her project competed for funds with far more traditional health projects, such as heart research.

Assuming the pilot project produces positive results, Snider will apply to the same national institute to fund a full HSC program for five years. After that, it's hoped government will see the benefits of picking up the tab.

larry.kusch@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 19, 2013 A3

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Updated on Tuesday, November 19, 2013 at 7:03 AM CST: Replaces photo

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