Tumbler Ridge loses youth counsellor

Trent Ernst, Editor


February 4 will be the last day that Tumbler Ridge has a child, family and youth counsellor, at least for now.

While the position is through Northern Health, it is through a contract that has been funded by the Ministry of Children and Family Development (MCFD).

That contract is ending.

Tumbler Ridge Secondary School Vice Principal Jan Proulx says this couldn’t come at a worse time. “Tumbler Ridge has had an extremely difficult year with mine closures and massive layoffs,” says Proulx. “Now we are faced with losing an essential and critical support for the youth in our community.”

She says the pressures that affect the parents often affect the children. “As a school we have seen and experienced an increase in teenage mental health issues such as anxiety and depression over the last decade. This year alone we have seen further increases with stressors for our youth as they deal with issues such as parent unemployment and one or both parents working away from home. These situations have resulted in increased responsibility and pressure for our youth who are already dealing with typical adolescent stressors. This is a critical time to support our youth instead of eliminating a much valued and needed service.”

While the counsellor is not based at the school, the school works in partnership with the youth counsellor, says Proulx. “The youth counselor supports the school and parents in implementing programs and working with students on a variety of issues such as suicide, self-harm, anxiety, depression, substance abuse, teen sexuality, anger management, self-regulation and mental illness. We access this service regularly for our students in both emergency and non-emergency situations.

“The elimination of this position removes an essential part of the team necessary to support Tumbler Ridge youth. We are asking for your voice and support to ensure that this essential service is not lost.”

The current Child, Youth and Family services Counsellor will not be leaving Tumbler Ridge. Instead, she will be taking over as Addictions Counsellor, filling the hole left when former Counsellor and Mayor Darwin Wren left late last year.

Despite what it might at first seem, says Tracy McLellan, Director, Mental Health and Addictions, Northeast, Northern Health Authority, this is actually an improvement in care for the town. “I understand that it sounds like we’re taking something away,” says McLellan, “and I understand that the community is vulnerable right now. By shifting to a full time case manager we are able to help more people.”

The previous position, says McLellan, was a part time position, working the equivalent of .4 time dealing with cases in town. But the new position will deal with cases full time.

This, says McLellan, brings Tumbler Ridge in line with the rest of the Northeast. “The work that Autumn was doing was a contract Northern Health held, but was paid for by the Ministry. Because we are realigning our services to support our primary care goals, we will no longer be doing that.”

McLellan says this was Northern Health’s decision, as the contract fell outside Northern Health’s mandate.

“We are developing multi-discipline teams to support the people in the community,” she says. “We are doing less siloed work. In Tumbler Ridge, we’ve realigned some positions. The previous team leader position is now doing clinical, mental health and addiction case management for adult and addiction case management for youth.”

The contract was a holdover from a number of years ago, and was the last one Northern Health still held for the Ministry. But how will this affect people who saw the counsellor before. Will they be able to see her in this new position? “We are working on a transition plan with MCFD,” she says. “Our work is with people, and people don’t fit into boxes. It will depend on how they fit in with all our programs.”

And what about the position of Child, Youth and Family Counsellor in Tumbler Ridge? “The ministry is committed to ensuring this service is available in the community as soon as possible,” says a spokesperson for the Ministry. “Anyone with concerns about the cancellation of this service should contact the local MCFD office directly. Staff will be able to assist and direct individuals and families as appropriate to ensure their needs are being met.”

There is currently no timeline in place as to when Tumbler Ridge could have a Child, Family and Youth Counsellor in place. The Ministry is currently “reviewing possible options,” but Proulx says she is still not happy with the way things have been handled.

“What I’d would like the Ministry to do is to communicate a plan, because what are we supposed to do in the meantime? And they need to guarantee us the same level of service and not have someone come in once a week, because that’s not enough.”