LAKELAND – The closure of a treatment centre for at-risk youth in High Prairie will have an impact throughout northern Alberta, says the union representing provincial employees at the facility.

The High Prairie Campus Based Treatment Centre, which provides care for youth with serious behavioural issues, was damaged by a fire in Nov. 2023. Rather than refurbish the facility, the Government of Alberta plans to keep the centre closed indefinitely and transfer children hundreds of kilometres away for treatment, says Sandra Azocar, vice-president of the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees.

“It was the closest centre that we had for treatment for children in the northern part of Alberta. It has a huge impact on that whole area,” Azocar said.

“The children that actually get serviced out of those facilities are children that have high risk lifestyles. Kids with serious behavioural issues. Kids that basically need extra support to be able to either go back to their families, or or just to stay off the streets and living high risk life,” she said.

The province has three other Campus Based Treatment Centre’s where the youths could be transferred, in Lac La Biche, Edmonton, and Lethbridge. However, the nearest facility in Lac La Biche, about 340 kilometres from High Prairie, is currently closed for renovation and is not expected to reopen until the summer.

“It’s already hard enough for these kids to have any kind of semblance of family support around them when they’re so far away. But now, this is going to even be more of an issue. Families, if they can they can afford it and are in a situation that they can make those travel plans, they’ll have to drive even further,” Azocar said.

The decision to close the facility will also hurt staff and the local economy, Azocar said. Nine child and youth care counsellor positions have been eliminated, and the remaining 13 employees are being asked to move to either Lac La Biche, Edmonton, or Lethbridge to keep their jobs. “It’s always a huge loss for children and families when we lose skilled workers to decisions that are just not in the best interest of families in this province.” she said.

Azocar said the government hasn’t given an explanation its decision to close the facility rather than fix or renovate it. “That decision has been made without any kind of transparency as to why they think that this area doesn’t merit the kind of supports that children need in that area.”

Ashli Barrett, press secretary to the Minister of Children and Family Services, said the High Prairie treatment centre “will remain closed until a major project study is completed and subsequent recommendations regarding the state of the building addressed.”

At the time of the temporary closure, there were 14 permanent staff and nine wage staff. Employees have been provided options under the collective agreement and the Public Service Employment Regulation Act.”

The centre in High Prairie had the capacity for 10 treatment beds for youth, and at the time of the fire there were six youth residing at the facility, Barrett said. The six youth were transferred to the Yellowhead treatment centre in Edmonton.

“The Lac La Biche CBTC is anticipated to reopen in Summer 2024. Staffing decisions, including staff transfers, are currently underway and will be finalized prior to the reopening. Youth requiring services will be placed in this facility after determination that they fit the criteria for that facility,” Barrett said.

By Brett McKay, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Apr 11, 2024 at 07:55

This item reprinted with permission from   St. Albert Gazette   St. Albert, Alberta
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