A former worker at a Sydney residential youth centre under scrutiny following allegations of rampant drug use and violence against staff says he warned of problems there nearly a decade ago.

Rod Mitchell of New Waterford worked in youth care for 33 years. But he said his two years at Comhla Cruinn, which houses youth between 12 and 18 years old and is the responsibility of the province, drove him into early retirement in 2007. 

Earlier this month, the Nova Scotia Government and General Employees Union, which represents many workers at Comhla Cruinn, went public with what it described as out-of-control behavior, drug use, sexual activity and violence by the young residents

The provincial government has pledged to investigate the allegations.

Mitchell said he saw the beginnings of those problems and wrote to administration with his concerns in 2007.

No consequences

Rod Mitchell

Rod Mitchell says he retired in frustration. (Submitted by Rod Mitchell)

Things began to fall apart, he said, when new guidelines were introduced, written by an expert with a PhD but no children.

He said the theory was to establish a good relationship with the young people and help them to make good choices. But, he said, there were no consequences for bad behaviour.

"For example, there was an incident where a bunch of the residents stole the van, went joyriding, did some damage to the van, and the next day we were supposed to take them to the movies," Mitchell said.

In his 2007 letter, Mitchell told management: "Things are out of control. Many youth-in-care are out of control. Our residential care program is out of control. Why? Because in the new approach to child and youth care, 'control' is an unacceptable term; 'disclipline' is an unacceptable term."

Mitchell said the closure of youth facilities in Truro, Shelburne and a unit at the Nova Scotia Hospital brought young people to the centre, which didn't have the resources to help them.

"We are merely warehousing them, and not doing a very good job at that," Mitchell said in his letter. "Our warehouse has poor security. The wares come and go as they please, frequently placing themselves at risk to harm the community at large or engage in criminal activities."

'Chaos and abuse'

Mitchell said he also worried about the effect of the centre's environment on the young people. He said many of them felt insecure and unsafe. 

In his letter, Mitchell described conditions as "extremely stressful and unhealthy. Chaos and abuse are wearing down staff and youth alike."

Mitchell also disagreed with housing boys and girls together, especially between the ages of 12 to 18.

"The residents themselves, when they knew it was coming, told us it wasn't a good idea," he said.

Mitchell said when he heard the NSGEU describe the current problems at Comhla Cruinn, he regreted not trying to do more back in 2007. He said he never received any response to his letter.