Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 6/6/2016 (440 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
On May 29, two child- and youth-care practitioners were attacked and beaten by two youths in their care at the Behavioural Health Foundation in Selkirk. One was a student finishing her practicum and one was a BHF employee.
They were working with high-needs teens struggling with addictions. They were there to help and provide guidance and support. They were there to do their jobs.
And they were victims of an attack that will leave permanent physical and emotional scars; the student has permanently lost vision in one eye. There is no way to repair the damage.
Since the attack, the public has heard about the agency. We have heard from members of the student's family who say they knew it was not a safe place to work. Red River College officials have been asked how a student was placed in that dangerous environment in order to complete her practicum.
Some media are focusing on elements of this situation as though it's the exception and can simply be "fixed" by improved safety standards overall and in practicums, specifically.
The grim reality, however, is that high-risk environments such as the one at BHF are the norm, not the exception.
Hundreds of child- and youth-care practitioners in Manitoba work in fear every day. People in this field are regularly subjected to assaults and verbal abuse. It's common practice for students to get work experience placements in seriously understaffed agencies; take the student out of the BHF scenario and there is a single employee working alone with high-risk adolescent boys.
It would be easy to blame the agencies that employ us, but they, too, are struggling to function in a broken, overburdened system that asks them to provide quality care for our province's highest-needs youths. They are overwhelmed by inadequate funding and an increasing demand for treatment needs growing in complexity.
Combine that with often under-educated staff with limited experience — there are minimal requirements to work in the field — extreme stress, concerns for personal safety and far-from-adequate wages and it's far from surprising that worker turnover is high, creating additional challenges for existing programs.
The system — especially for people working on the front lines — is in crisis.
There are no easy answers and no quick fixes. Historically, in Manitoba, we have a habit of reacting and not responding when elements of the Child and Family Services system make headlines. Perhaps this time, we can stop to look at what is required for real, meaningful change.
We need to look at staff training, qualifications and numbers. We need to look at how we provide support for front-line workers and implement measures to ensure their safety. We need to address funding models that do not allow for any of these things to occur.
This province has more than 10,000 youths in care and the number is growing. They are every Manitoban's responsibility. They are there after the media tells the story and the inquests are closed. They deserve educated, qualified, well-trained people to help them on their way. They deserve safe places to live in safe places to work.
That can only be accomplished by holding ourselves and government accountable.
Jessica Hadley is president of the Child and Youth Care Workers’ Association of Manitoba.