Nfld. & Labrador

Teen worried about future after Burin youth home closure

A youth home on the Burin Peninsula that is set for privatization has one young person who lives there worried about what that will mean for her.

Youth homes also set to be privatized in Grand Falls-Windsor, Stephenville

A teenage girl living at the TJ McDonald Youth Achievement Home in Burin says she's worried about what will happen to her life when the home is forced to close. (CBC)

A youth home on the Burin Peninsula that is set for privatization has one young person who lives there worried about what that will mean for her.

The TJ McDonald Achievement Home in Burin is one of three in the province that are slated to close down.

However, Child, Youth and Family Services Minister Paul Davis said the provincial government has a plan in place for each individual child's needs during the transition.

Government is contracting the care of young people at the home, as well as one each in Stephenville and Grand Falls-Windsor, to a private group called Blue Sky.

One teen, whom CBC isn't identifying, said she's been bumped around to different homes since she was 9 years old, but since landing on the Burin Peninsula three years ago she's found life to be different.

"We have stability there. They [the staff] love [and] they support us for everything that we need and go through," she said.

"They're there for the good times and the hard times — they just do everything that they can for us."

Now she's worried about what will happen to her once government closes the home.

"I felt like they were taking away my life, you know. I'm graduating next year, I have a job here," she said.

"The staff are, like I said, my family, and now they're just going to pick it up and move me again, and take all that away from me."

Plans already in place

Government awarded a three-year contract to Blue Sky in late March as part of a change to the province's child care system.

Davis said he can understand concerns young people would have about moving to another home, but ensure that government has their best interests in mind.

"While a young person may question their own future, we're taking many, many steps to ensure that the best interests of that child, and each individual child, is met," said Davis.

According to Davis, the province has taken into account each distinct child and their case when considering the best course of action for them in the transition.

"We have plans for each individual child — each one of the 101 children and youth in those placements that are impacted through this process," he said.

"We have transition plans and planning for each individual child based on their own individual needs, recognizing that each and every one of them are different in their own right, so we're making our best efforts to make this as seamless as possible with the long-term goal of being in the best interests of children."

More than just a job

Carol Furlong, the president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Association of Public and Private Employees, said the closure is a blow for the workers in the home.
NAPE President Carol Furlong says the workers at the Burin home are losing more than just their jobs; some have been there for 20 years, and have strong attachments to the young people that come in. (CBC)

Furlong said there are 17 youth workers and support staff at the Burin home who are losing their jobs, and more.

"They are devastated, of course. For them this is not just a job," said Furlong.

"They are losing their jobs, good paying jobs, [with] good benefits, but they are also losing their attachment to these young people — some of them have been there a long time."

Contract agreement means stability for young people

Anne Whelan, CEO of Blue Sky, said the company has been taking care of youth for several years.

Whelan said the company will guarantee a stable environment for young people coming into their care.

"In a contracted arrangement, we are able to hire, train and retain long-term staff, and so in the places where we have had a long-term arrangement, we've had very, very little turnover," she said.
Blue Sky CEO Anne Whelan says the company will do everything it can to ensure a smooth transition for all the young people coming into its care. (CBC)

Whelan added the company can understand why young people in the homes would be concerned about the move, but they will try to make the transition as smooth as possible for everyone.

"We'll do our very best to make sure that transition impact is minimized for each young person," said Whelan.

"That's really the reason why we do this work, and that's our most important consideration."

NAPE said the easiest solution is for government to allow two homes to be open — the TJ McDonald Achievement Home and the Blue Sky centre.

The union said there are enough young people in the government's care to warrant keeping both open.

Workers have planned a rally on Thursday to protest the home's closure and try to change government's decision.

Similar protests have already been held in Grand Falls-Windsor and Stephenville, where youth homes are also set to close.