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Youth Centre crisis avoidable, says union for staff there

The Ontario Government paved the way for the crisis at Canada’s largest jail for youth, and it has the power to turn around the volatile and dangerous situation, says the union for staff there.

The Ministry of Children and Youth Services (MCYS) places youth at the Roy McMurtry Youth Centre in Brampton without regard for their age or gang affiliation, and that leads to gangs of up to six youths beating on one, said Glenna Caldwell, the elected provincial representative for OPSEU members who work at the MCYS.

“It is unsafe and unstable for youth and the people who work with them, and there have been several assaults on staff,” said Caldwell. “The Ministry must change the system for placement of youth offenders and provide the necessary training for youth services officers.”

Staff should be given additional tools to deal with complex, violent situations and youth with mental health issues, said Bruce England, a youth services officer and president of OPSEU Local 290.

“We are trained to diffuse and de-escalate only one-on-one altercations. That’s worlds away from what we’re facing with group and gang violence,” said England.

Youth services officers are committed, dedicated professionals who deal with very challenging youth on a daily basis, said Caldwell.

“OPSEU and the ministry have been actively engaged in discussions on training in mental health and gang-related issues, and are currently undertaking a joint review of staffing levels in our direct-operated facilities,” she said.

Provincial advocate Irwin Elman issued a report saying the RMYC “is at a crossroads” and must take steps to keep its promise to rehabilitate and reintegrate youth. To do that, England said the Ministry must help foster a culture of partnership between youth and youth services officers at RMYC so that both groups are equally committed to the relationship custody model, which includes rules, procedures, coaching, and mentoring.