The union representing workers at Brookside Youth Centre says front-line workers have sensible solutions on the facility’s future following the Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services’ decision to abruptly close the property.
“This is another case where the front-line staff know the best way to help the troubled youth in these facilities,” said OPSEU/SEFPO President Warren (Smokey) Thomas. “All we ask is that the ministry hear us out, and if they do, they’ll realize we’ve got some pretty good ideas.”
The union recommends building a 16-bed facility at Brookside using plans and studies already completed and paid for by the province. It would house and treat young offenders with mental health issues and other secure-custody youth on a two-acre site.
“Over recent years, we’ve clearly and frequently indicated we wanted to collaborate in creating one or more mental health units at Brookside, said OPSEU/SEFPO MERC Co-Chair and Local 337 Vice-President Peter Harding. “Unfortunately, the response has been an equally clear no. It’s been extremely frustrating for all of us who care about Brookside and the rehabilitative services it offers vulnerable youth.
“Our plan is cost-effective and of great benefit to youth and their families,” Harding added. “It also has the advantage of keeping tax dollars in the Northumberland County area.”
Brookside has operated as a youth-only secure detention centre since 1985. Before closing, it employed 106 OPSEU/SEFPO members, including youth service officers, psychologists, nurses, and administrative, maintenance and kitchen staff.
Negotiations start today on transferring staff to other facilities. Unfortunately, there are no opportunities within Northumberland County or within a reasonable commuting area – a blow to local businesses and municipal tax coffers. Youth will be rehoused in Simcoe, Brampton or Ottawa, cutting them off from family and community supports.
“Everything possible must be done to give youth an opportunity to succeed and contribute to the community,” said OPSEU/SEFPO First Vice-President/Treasurer Eduardo (Eddy) Almeida, who is a Corrections Officer.
“Family and the community are critical elements for lasting rehabilitation. I think the ministry is being short-sighted by putting short-term savings ahead of long-term costs to individuals and society.”
Thomas is inviting ministry officials to sit down with OPSEU/SEFPO and discuss some ideas. “The studies and plans are already there. They’re paid for. They’re the best option for youth and their families. Let’s give these kids the best possible chance in life.”