Getting troubled youth off drugs

A new service is being offered to Central Alberta youth on probation that aims to motivate them to give up drugs.

A new service is being offered to Central Alberta youth on probation that aims to motivate them to give up drugs.

McMan Youth, Family and Community Services Association is set to begin offering the program this summer after receiving nearly $500,000 over three years from the federal Department of Justice’s Youth Justice Fund.

The program will see workers trained in the Seven Challenges drug counselling approach working with youth aged 12-17 who are in conflict with the law.

The Red Deer Youth Justice Committee or probation officers have to refer youth in order for them to participate in the program.

Though the Seven Challenges program, youth are encouraged to make informed decisions about their drug use after reflecting on their decision-making and weighing the benefits they derive from using versus the harm being caused.

Rather than simply telling kids, “Don’t do drugs,” the program intends to get youth to come to their own conclusions.

“The reason we love the Seven Challenges is because it’s really developed for youth and their developmental stage. It’s not telling them what to do, it’s working with the way youth think already and getting them to use some decision-making skills,” said Christine Stewart, program manager with McMan.

“It makes them think and contrary to what we think sometimes, kids really like to learn and they like to be smart about their choices. They just don’t like to be told what to do.”

While not finalized, Stewart said the idea is that the referred youth will spend the first two or three sessions with one of two counsellors in a one-on-one setting before up to six offenders are brought together for twice-weekly group sessions.

The teens are compelled to journal their thoughts during each session and set goals at the end.

Stewart estimated that four counselling groups could run simultaneously for periods of four months.

Annually, 50 or more youth could participate.

McMan already uses the Seven Challenges program for schoolchildren and other groups of youth, making it a rarity in Canada. While widely used in the U.S., Stewart says the local organization is one of only two agencies in Canada that have adopted the program.

Stewart said local probation counsellors are eager to take advantage of the program, and she said the community has been calling for another approach as well.

“You just wouldn’t believe how many people I run into and talk to about what I’m doing and they spout out, ‘Oh, my son, my daughter, my parent, my cousin has dealt with this.’ And most of them are saying it’s hard to find treatment and sometimes you exhaust the resources of one place and you need to go to another place because it’s not an overnight fix most of the time,” said Stewart.

Reaching youth before they develop long-standing addictions, she added, is crucial.

Any youth who come through the Red Deer court system can be referred to the program, but Stewart acknowledged that transportation could be an issue for those in outlying communities.

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