Kids-in-care have faced more trauma than most of us will experience in a lifetime, most with first-hand exposure to violence & addictions. Many have been subjected to instability, uncertainty and the absence of caring, consistent authority figures. Ensuring an environment that provides stability, nurturing and structure is no easy task.
The Government of Yukon operates 7 homes for youth-in-care in Whitehorse housing children from younger than 10 to 17 years old. These Residential Youth Treatment Services facilities (RYTS) are staffed around the clock by a group of dedicated workers, employees of the Department of Health & Social Services.
*”Some children in residential care have complex problems. They have physical and mental health needs and can have multiple diagnoses.
Often these children have histories characterized by instability, abuse, neglect, and rejection. In some cases these children can act out violently and there is increased risk for addiction and risk taking behaviour.
Typically, children in residential care are angry, they are depressed, and they act out. For some youth, their placement into residential facilities is their last chance at social services before a move into the juvenile justice system. For younger children, a successful placement in a group home setting could prevent them from transfer to a more institutional setting.”
RYTS staff try to meet the physical, recreational and emotional needs of the children while making sure they attend school, medical and other appointments. The role these caregivers play is equal parts parent, tutor, counselor and guide. The staff provide the consistent presence of caring adults who do their best to maintain a calm home life despite the semi-institutional setting.
The Yukon Government is failing children in care and their caregivers through chronic understaffing and inadequate safeguards.
In homes occupied by traumatized children and youth, workers struggle to maintain a safe environment when they are forced to work alone. There are many clear and obvious dangers, including the threat of residents harming each other or violence directed against the adult caregiver. RCMP or social services also provide requirements for some of the youth; frequently, staff are legally obligated to maintain “line-of-sight” contact with more than one resident simultaneously, even when on duty alone. If a resident returns to a home intoxicated or aggressive, there is no back-up if a violent incident erupts.
RYTS workers have come to the union because they are concerned, even afraid. They report a dramatic increase in the number of shifts where only one worker is scheduled. RYTS staffers are expected to work alone overnight with residents who require specialized attention or care. While two staffers may be scheduled, if someone is ill or called away to another understaffed home, there is no effort made to bring in replacement personnel to fill the shift. This creates a high risk environment for the worker, for the young people and exposes all parties to a heightened level of liability.
Caregivers know the importance of maintaining a healthy and safe environment for these kids. A heavy burden of stress is carried home when that objective is compromised.
Frequent assaults on workers inspired the YWCHSB to conduct a safety audit in 2013. The recommendations of that audit, though not shared with the affected workers, have resulted in no significant changes in the unusually high risk workplaces.
Chronic understaffing is one result of management’s decision to reduce staffing costs, including costly overtime. These cost saving measures have also resulted in a series of incidents which put both workers & youth in danger.
In residences housing children who are likely to self-harm or cause harm to others, the safety net provided by a shift-partner is critical. When an at-risk occupant is escalating and violence is likely, who maintains the safety of the other residents? Who calls for help if a caregiver is working to maintain calm or has been injured?
The Government of Yukon has a duty to provide a safe work environment for its workers while they do everything possible to provide a safe environment for the children they work with.
When a home is understaffed, programming that is scheduled and anticipated can’t take place. While the kids may have been promised a soccer game in the back yard after completing their homework, the lack of a shift partner can result in disappointment instead of reward.
The Department of Health & Social Services has been saving on wages at the expense of the youth in their care. Rather than hire more employees to ensure appropriate coverage, they have chosen to slash the number of Auxiliary On-Call hours by over 2000 in the past quarter. 2000 hours is equal to over 166 12-hour shifts UNSTAFFED; 166 shifts that were regularly staffed just a few months ago.
166 unstaffed shifts means recreational programs are not reliably maintained.
166 unstaffed shifts means outings are cancelled.
166 unstaffed shifts means increased tensions
& stress in the RYTS homes.
166 unstaffed shifts means higher risk of violent assault by traumatized house-mates.
166 unstaffed shifts suggest Whitehorse’s Residential Youth Treatment Services homes are being managed to serve the bottom line, and not to meet the needs of Yukon’s most vulnerable children.
We ask the Government of Yukon to show leadership and staff these homes appropriately, right now.
These children have faced enough uncertainty, instability and danger already. Let’s help them to rebuild, to develop their innate resilience and find hope.
“My concern is that they do not seem to have any regard for the children – we are a protection service for youth who come from horrendous, traumatic pasts and yet we don’t make decisions based on what is best for them but on what is best financially.
*Security Review, Residential Youth Treatment Services (RYTS) Prepared by Paladin Security, 2013 for YWCHSB