ST. JOHN’S, NL — A planned provincial expansion for a non-profit group dedicated to at-risk youth could help the Trinity-Conception area.
Based in St. John’s, Choices for Youth works with young people ages 16-29, serving approximately 1,200 clients annually.
“One of the first things that we noticed and continue to notice is how many of those young people come from communities all over the province,” explained Joshua Smee, provincial expansion co-ordinator for Choices for Youth.
In many cases, they were receiving services from the organization while also being cut off from support networks at home.
Smee said that represents an obvious challenge for youth already struggling with their day-to-day existence.
“For us, a lot of this is about reaching young people earlier in their journeys so that the focus shifts a little bit more to prevention or to working with them before things get so bad that they have to pick up and move,” he said, noting services for at-risk youth in general concentrate heavily on the St. John’s area.
Last month, Choices for Youth released a 64-page report titled “We Are Ready.” It represents a culmination of consultations and face-to-face meetings with people across Newfoundland and Labrador. One of those consultations took place last September in Carbonear.
According to the report, abuse of prescription drugs is causing trouble for youth in the Trinity-Conception area. Providing services to meet the needs of youth is challenging in light of so many small communities existing in a region where public transportation is non-existent. The report also suggested there’s a lack of co-ordination between community agencies, law enforcement and the health-care system.
Smee acknowledged a lot of regions across the province face the same sort of issues.
“There are a bunch of consistent themes that we heard all over the province that were definitely represented in C.B.N.,” he said. “Young people across the board are struggling more with mental health issues, particularly with anxiety, and we heard quite a lot about increasing drug use at younger ages, which is a real challenge.”
In terms of co-ordinating service, Smee heard of a repeated desire for a front door to access support.
“So, it’s not even always about adding more programs or supports. It might just be about tying them together a little bit better.”
As for what stood out specifically in the Trinity-Conception region, Smee said there are great opportunities to partner with Choices for Youth and adopt program models. There are also some under-utilized buildings in the area that could be used to offer services for youth such as housing.
Not far away
Of course, Conception Bay North is not all that far from St. John’s. However, Smee said being in relatively close proximity to the capital should not leave anyone thinking the region does not need Choices for Youth’s help on the ground.
“What sometimes happens is young people are told, ‘Well, you’re not that far from St. John’s, you can just go into town.’ What we heard a lot of was that particularly with the most vulnerable young people, the ones we are most concerned with and working with, which are young people with lots of overlapping challenges — mental health and addictions, housing and homelessness and family breakdowns — a lot of them really struggle to move back and forth from St. John’s to access services … a lot of these young people who are in this situation don’t have easy access for example to transportation options that they need to access programming in town.”
One possible solution, he suggested, could be to find ways to make transportation accessible for youth needing services in St. John’s like Choices for Youth. Even then, Smee said there could still be a need for offering some programs closer to home.
Right now, Choices for Youth’s goal for provincial expansion is to be active in six regions across the province within the next three years. Being active would not necessarily entail having a physical Choices for Youth office in each region, Smee cautioned.
“I think we want to make sure we’re adapting our programs to fit what local organizations need and what communities are asking about,” he said. “So, over the next few months, part of my job is to keep talking to local organizations, because we wouldn’t go anywhere where we didn’t feel like we had some strong local partners to help us figure things out.
“We’re from St. John’s, and we’re still learning our way around communities outside of the city.”
Choices for Youth also plans to share information gathered to assess its expansion options with government.
“There’s a lot of work being done outside of Choices at the provincial level around planning and doing a better job of addressing mental health, addictions, homelessness and housing, and we want to make sure that even if we don’t end up setting up a program in a given community, that the community’s voice makes it into that conversation,” Smee said.
While Choices for Youth did have the necessary resources for planning an expansion, the organization will need some additional finances to realize this vision. Smee did note that this won’t always be necessary, pointing specifically to providing co-ordination expertise for community agencies.
“We’re lucky that we’re a big enough organization that we have a fund development team that is always out there looking for new fundraising sources, whether those are donors, fundraising or grants.”
Smee said Choices for Youth will continue to collect feedback on the expansion plan with hopes of identifying anything the group may have hit on the nose or even missed altogether.