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Staff assess changes to youth support model

It's not perfect, but it's working. Richmond school district staff and its elected board chair are confident the adolescent support team is getting it right and reaching vulnerable students in need of help.

It's not perfect, but it's working.

Richmond school district staff and its elected board chair are confident the adolescent support team is getting it right and reaching vulnerable students in need of help.

The highly-trained four-person team was formed in the wake of the scything cutbacks forced upon the school board at the height of the recession.

Prior to the cutbacks, each secondary school in the district boasted its own youth support worker (YSW), 10 employees who struck up a daily rapport with students.

It was such relationships that most schools enthused about. Many fears were expressed about the well-being of students when the YSWs fell victim to the cuts.

With a view to tracking the progress of the new streamlined team - a vital cog in the district's wheel of teenage support - a report went before the school board last week, analyzing the response times and identifying any gaps in the service model.

"Staff is telling us that it is (working)," said school board chair Donna Sargent.

"They really feel it's reaching the students that need the support. Although they feel it is working, they did note that there are gaps that need to be addressed. We did have discussions about this and a lot was mentioned about the support available in the community, because students need support past 3 p.m."

Trying to compare the work of the new team, with that of the youth support workers would be inappropriate, according to the school district's director of instruction and learning services, Kathy Champion.

"You simply can't compare the two. It's tempting to try, but it would be wrong," said Champion.

While the youth workers may have had closer relationships with students, they were not as highly trained or qualified to deal with emotional and mental health issues.

"The youth support workers were in the schools all the time," Champion added.

"They were in the hallways, talking to kids informally, perhaps dealing with smaller issues that didn't get recorded, so we can't compare. They also didn't provide the support that the current team provides; such as mental health and social and emotional support."

Champion said she's happy with the team's response times, noting that the most important issues can be reached "within the day. Others may take a little longer, but I'm very happy with the model we have."

Anxiety is still the single biggest issue among students, said Champion. "We're getting better at resolving it, but there are many manifestations of it and it continues to grow."

In terms of the gaps in the current service, both Champion and Sargent feel the community at large has the responsibility to step in and fill any void.

"There are issues with transporting the kids in question to programs and services ... on the weekend," Champion pointed out. "These children need support outside of school hours. We need to work with our community partners and mental health partners to address the gaps.

"It will probably come down to a funding issue, there's never enough money. But there's more strength in working together, rather than blaming people for gaps in the service."

Some schools miss having someone on site to support the students, said Champion, who added, "this is what we have now and we will continue to work with it."

acampbell@richmond-news.com