President Hornick calls on MCCSS to address staffing and funding crisis for Northern youth centres

Fix the funding and staffing crisis in Northern youth centres

With the staffing and funding crisis that continues in transfer-payment agency youth centres across the province, OPSEU/SEFPO President JP Hornick has brought the plight of two Northern youth centres whose staff are represented by OPSEU/SEFPO to the attention of the Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services.

President Hornick urged MCCSS to increase the base funding for Creighton Youth Centre (OPSEU/SEFPO Local 702) and Northern Youth Services’ Sterling B. Campbell House (OPSEU/SEFPO Local 618), in order to ensure that the young people in these open custody facilities have the services and programs they are entitled to by law. (Hornick has previously alerted MCCSS about several youth centres in Southwestern Ontario, and the St. Lawrence Youth Association in Kingston.)

The crisis situation in the Northern youth centres is described in detail in Hornick’s letter to the North Region Director of MCCSS:

March 6, 2024

Sandra Russell, Director – North Region
Ontario Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services

RE: Request for meeting to address urgent staffing crisis at Creighton Youth Centre and Northern Youth Services’ Sterling B. Campbell House

Dear Sandra Russell,

I’m writing to you about a serious and urgent funding and staffing crisis taking place at two open custody youth centres in the MCCSS North Region: Creighton Youth Centre in Kenora, and Northern Youth Services’ Sterling B. Campbell House in Sudbury.

Our members from OPSEU/SEFPO Local 618 work with male youth in custody at Campbell House in Sudbury, and Local 702 members work with male youth in custody at Creighton Youth Centre. These youth justice workers have dedicated their careers to helping young people in conflict with the law with rehabilitation and reintegration into their communities.

The mandate of these youth centres is to help youth in crisis – and yet, these centres are in their own state of crisis. After the closures of more than 26 youth justice facilities in 2021, the remaining transfer-payment agencies, including Creighton Youth Centre and Campbell House, have been unable to deliver the services we want to provide to vulnerable youth, through no fault of the youth justice workers, who are doing everything they can with the inadequate resources and staffing levels they have.

After many years of no base funding increases, the situation in our youth centres is dire. In order to provide the level of care that is mandated for the young people we work with, OPSEU/SEFPO recommends base funding increases in order to do the following:

  1. Align wage rates with Ontario Public Service rates to retain and train qualified and committed staff
  2. Raise the staffing ratio which will permit staff to improve program delivery and safety
  3. Create in-house positions to provide psychological and mental health supports for youth
  4. Raise the allocation of funds for food and client/personal needs.

When both Creighton Youth Centre and Campbell House changed from secure custody facilities to open custody facilities, they lost a lot of funding and staff – despite the fact that open custody facilities have the same expenses as secure facilities. Given the huge catchment areas of both facilities, youth are often flown in from far away, adding exorbitant transportation costs and limiting their ability to access support from their families and communities. Youth in open custody centres must still be supervised, educated, fed, clothed and provided with mental health, rehabilitation, recreation and support programs.

But because of the funding cuts, there are fewer staff to provide the many supports needed, including the loss of cooks and cleaning staff. As a result, the few youth justice workers who remain at these centres must cover all responsibilities, including general supervision/security, bed checks, suicide prevention, cooking, housekeeping, dispensing medicine, supervising Section 23 classrooms, making community connections, coordinating remote court sessions, completing case management reintegration plans, and meeting any other needs of the youth in their care.

Staff are routinely in situations where they have to try to be in two places at once. For example: preparing and serving meals while also having to supervise youth in class. Facilitating programming or recreation activities for some youth while making travel arrangements for others, and perhaps managing a crisis at the same time. There just aren’t enough staff to ensure the safety and well-being of both the youth and the workers.

There are drastic differences between contracted out, agency-run youth centres like Creighton Youth Centre and Campbell House, and those that are directly-operated by the Ontario Public Service. Youth in contracted out facilities have less access to gym and physical activities, art, life skills and other programming than youth in direct-operated facilities. Budgets for food and personal needs, which include dental care, items related to programming for youth, and cultural needs, have been frozen for years, while costs have gone up dramatically. Parents are often asked to cover their child’s expenses through their benefits.

This creates an unacceptable situation where workers have to try and help these extremely vulnerable youth without adequate financial supports and resources. These young people have histories of extensive trauma, some seriously self-harm, and most have a history of violent crime. At Creighton Youth Centre, the vast majority of youth are Indigenous. The province has a responsibility to provide enough funding and staff to provide these youth with the specialized care and support that they need.

Youth centres and group homes that are transfer payment agencies are having difficulty attracting and retaining staff because of inadequate wages, increased duties and high-risk working conditions. Youth justice workers performing similar work in Ontario Public Service youth centres make between $10-15 more per hour.

The reason why transfer-payment youth justice agencies are in crisis across the province is clear: historic underfunding resulting in a severe shortage of experienced staff. At some facilities, shifts are often filled completely with new hires and undertrained temporary workers from for-profit temporary agencies, leading to a decline in Ministry standards. Our members are not responsible for the mismanagement and financial neglect of the transfer-payment youth justice system, but every day, they experience the consequences of it, and so do the young people in their care.

I urge you to immediately intervene and provide permanent base funding increases to transfer payment agencies to ensure that youth receive the services and programs they are entitled to under the Youth Criminal Justice Act. There are no excuses for shortcuts to programming for this vulnerable population.

I would like to invite you to meet with representatives of the frontline workers from OPSEU/SEFPO Locals 618 and 702 and our BPS Corrections Division to find a solution that will create better conditions for youth in custody and the staff dedicated to their care. Please contact Jonathan Guider, BPS Corrections Sector Chair to set up an appointment to meet.


JP Hornick
President, OPSEU/SEFPO