Developing a vision

Approximately 30 people from different professional backgrounds in Hay River and other communities came together on March 12 to discuss a plan of action for a youth treatment centre in the NWT.

The planning and visioning session was hosted by the Hay River Interagency Committee as part of addressing one of 170 line items it devised when it was established as an organization in 2008.

Minister of Health Tom Beaulieu, local MLAs and their representatives, town officials, interagency committee members, Health and Social Services officials and elders were present for the day-long meeting to share a vision for action.

The sessions were to devise a way out of sending youth to treatment centres in the south. For every $1 invested in addictions treatment, there is between a $4 and $7 return, said Jill Taylor, interagency committee member and inclusive schooling co-ordinator. This is an amount estimated before including health-care costs.

Before making suggestions, Beaulieu shared some numbers of his own. Of the $360 million in the budget for Health and Social Services, only $3.5 million is spent on prevention, he said. That’s less than one per cent. The Ontario government spends almost 50 per cent of its budget on health whereas the NWT spends about 23 per cent on health, Beaulieu said. With this in mind, he said it’s time for a change in thinking to an approach that’s more proactive, with a focus on prevention.

“Just looking at the cost of justice alone, the youth resident treatment centre is just one piece of the puzzle,” said Beaulieu. “We also need to look at aftercare and prevention. (Money spent on) prevention needs to be tripled.”

Along with those experienced in the field of addictions were representatives from the Last Door youth treatment centre in New Westminster, B.C., a 100-bed facility with an 8:10 staff to client ratio.

Program co-ordinators and counsellors Pete Beka and Jessica Cooksey came to talk about the model of care used in their long-term treatment program aimed to
help youth aged 14-18.

Beka and Cooksey said the treatment centre’s social philosophy on integrating youth and community with treatment has a very high success rate.

The grassroots organization literally began with a shoestring budget and a run-down building and evolved into a successful treatment centre, they said.

In the afternoon those in attendance were assigned to come up with a vision for a youth treatment centre in the territory, including non-negotiable characteristics, and bonus items.

Jane Groenewegen, MLA for Hay River South, agreed to take the idea of a youth treatment centre to the legislative assembly but said a grassroots approach would probably be quicker and more

“They say they have an anti-bricks-and-mortar policy but they won’t even put a treatment centre in one of the largest jail facilities in the NWT,” said Groenewegen. “So it’s hard to tell if they’re really committed. But I’m not so sure you want a government-run program. With a grassroots program, the communities have more of a central role.”

Many of those in attendance leaned toward finding a way for communities in the NWT to maintain control of a treatment centre and said they would be willing to be part of a signing authority or a new board or interagency sub-committee in order to put the process in motion.

“We have stats, we have similar visions, we have that in place to go forward – now it all comes down to dollars,” said youth justice committee member Lesli Ward. “We have to come up with a plan to achieve this goal. It’s a very challenging goal, but there is hope.”

The interagency committee will meet next during its summit, March 26-27.