Nova Scotia

Worker hit with chair raises alarm about violence at Sydney youth centre

In February 2016, NSGEU went public with concerns about Sydney's Comhla Cruinn Youth Centre, citing a lack of control and security. Now one worker says she still doesn't feel staff are equipped to deal with the some youth placed there.

Martha Green has been off work for months, saying she is too nervous to return

The Conhla Cruinn Youth Centre in Sydney opened in 2005 to house children at risk of abuse or neglect. (Gary Mansfield/CBC)

A worker at a Sydney youth centre is raising alarm, saying staff and residents at the facility are at risk because violent youth are occasionally placed there.

Martha Green has been employed as a youth worker for 14 years, most recently at the Comhla Cruinn Youth Residential Centre. She is currently on leave after she said she was assaulted at the facility last March, and is afraid to go back to work.

"Things have changed; I find the youth more violent," Green told CBC News in an interview at her home.

The Department of Community Services would not say how many violent incidents have taken place at the facility, which is home to eight young people between the ages of 12 and 18.

Declining an interview, the department said in an email that Comhla Cruinn is a community-based residential youth group home that goes beyond foster care. Children placed there may have "complex emotional and behavioural needs requiring an increased level of supervision and support."

Green said she doesn't feel staff at Comhla Cruinn have the training or resources they need to deal with some of the youth. 

However, the department said staff have received extensive training in non-violent crisis intervention, trauma services, suicide prevention and verbal and physical techniques for de-escalation. 

When necessary, it added, the centre can call in extra staff or the authorities for support.

'Chairs thrown'

Green said her first close call came last October, when a youth threw a chair at a window next to her. The glass shattered but Green was not injured.

The following March brought the assault, she said. "This same youth threw two chairs at me, violently, aggressively. I moved back quickly and it bounced off the wall and hit my knee," Green said. "Had I not moved, I feel it would have been fatal."

Green said she ended up in the emergency department, with injuries to her knee and Achilles tendon.

Youth worker Martha Green says the Department of Community Services should not be placing violent children at Comhla Cruinn. (Joan Weeks/CBC)

The resident remained in the facility until there were two more violent attacks, Green said. "One was with another staff and one was with one of the maintenance people that came in."

Green said she believes some of the children placed at Comhla Cruinn should instead have been at the Wood Street Residential Treatment Centre in Truro — a secure facility that offers long-term treatment and crisis intervention.

In an attempt to raise her concerns, Green said she's gone through the standard Occupational Health and Safety process, but doesn't feel they have been addressed.

Union working on problems

The Nova Scotia Government Employees Union (NSGEU), which represents the province's youth workers, first began raising concerns about the facility over a year ago.

Union president Jason MacLean said the union is working with the Department of Community Services to resolve the issues at the centre.

According to documents provided by NSGEU, some youth at the centre come from backgrounds of abuse, neglect and abandonment, and have emotional and behavioural issues as a result.

Some staff are struggling to manage youth behaviours, the unions says, and it would like to see more co-ordination with each child's social worker, as well as programming that has a targeted outcome. 

Many youth are not in school or in an equivalent education program, the documents say. 

Some of the actions already taken include an incident review by management, meetings with police to ensure more support for the team and a commitment "to taking all the necessary steps to ensure the safety of both the staff and the children who work and reside at Comhla Cruinn."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Joan Weeks

Reporter

Joan Weeks has been a reporter with CBC in Sydney for over a decade. Many of her stories are investigative with a focus on government spending and accountability, as well as health and economic issues important to Cape Breton.

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