“We have an obligation to ensure the safety and well-being of both our own members and these youth. It’s only a matter of time before we have a tragedy on our hands at Comhla Cruinn." — Joan Jessome, NSGEU President
Halifax (03 Feb 2016) — Joan Jessome, President of the Nova Scotia Government and General Employees' Union (NSGEU/NUPGE) is raising serious concerns about the safety of both workers and residents at the Comhla Cruinn Youth Centre.
The co-ed facility, located in Sydney, opened in 2005, houses approximately eight youths between the ages of 12 and 18, and is a responsibility of the Department of Community Services. About half of the residents are being housed on a temporary basis, while the remaining half are considered permanent, with no home to return to.
Violence, drug abuse, lack of supervision, and unsafe sexual activity are rampant
“Staff are reporting horrific working and living conditions at this facility,” said Jessome, “They regularly report being threatened, abused and assaulted by clients. They are also very concerned that the clients are engaging in unsafe sexual activity, which may not be consensual, are being assaulted at the facility, and are using drugs.”
In addition, the union has learned that
- Residents are not searched when they return to the facility;
- TDrugs are prevalent (including crystal meth), with residents returning under the influence of unknown substances; no protocols in place for proper monitoring;
- Residents are engaging in sex acts, and when reported to management, staff members are directed to simply observe. However, they are not permitted to supply condoms;
- No enforcement of curfews, even for those under court-imposed ones;
- Staff are directed not to call the police too often; however, police report more than 500 calls per year;
- Staff are directed not to use words like “violence” when preparing reports to avoid attention in the event of Freedom of Information requests;
- There are no “timeout rooms” to safely house residents who may be acting out;
- A Behaviour Management System does not exist; negative behaviours go undisciplined;
- Attendance at school or chore duties are not required;
- Staff receive inadequate training.
Government cuts force centre to take in higher-risk residents
The facility was originally intended to house residents who are evaluated to be low-level risks (Level 1 or 2) and are who are in need of residential support or outreach programs. However, due to government budget cuts, the facility is receiving residents who are more Level 3 or 4 — meaning they either refuse or are unable to consent to treatment, and would normally end up at a secure centre for youth, such as Wood Street Centre.
Jessome is calling on government to immediately bring in security to ensure the safety of workers and residents, and undertake a full, comprehensive review of the facility. The union will be going through the proper Occupational Health & Safety channels to file formal complaints.
“We have an obligation to ensure the safety and well-being of both our own members and these youth. It’s only a matter of time before we have a tragedy on our hands at Comhla Cruinn," said Jessome.
The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) is one of Canada's largest labour organizations with over 360,000 members. Our mission is to improve the lives of working families and to build a stronger Canada by ensuring our common wealth is used for the common good. NUPGE