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Relationship Custody

Youth Justice Services reports that they are committed to the use of a relationship custody approach, directed at fostering respectful, caring relationships between staff and young people and enabling staff to provide effective, evidenced based interventions to benefit youth. Documents provided to the Panel indicate that strategic priorities include enhanced staff training on the use of a relationship custody approach for staff working in directly operated youth centres. It is evident that efforts have been made to implement relationship custody in both directly operated and transfer payment operated facilities.

Through the Panel’s direct observations as well as through reports from the Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth, the degree to which this has been effective appears to be inconsistent (PACY, nd; PACY, 2012). Some secure custody centres appear to struggle with mitigating the total control context of custodial cultures and processes and experience challenges in optimizing relationship custody. Other facilities appear to be more able to institute relationship-based care. There is some indication that the size of the facility contributes to a youth-centred, therapeutic focus and the ability to establish positive relationships with young people, with smaller facilities often more able to accomplish these objectives.

The Panel visited several open and secure custody/detention facilities. Managers, program staff, front line staff and young people were interviewed in each case. In some cases, the views of managers, program staff and front line staff varied in their assessment of the degree to which they were able to implement relationship custody in their facility. While all identified the effective use of relationship custody as desirable, we heard that there are implementation challenges in some cases.

The challenges in fully implementing and optimizing relationship custody were reported to include:

It was suggested that the opportunity to document, develop standards for relationship custody, and share best practices across TP and DO sectors, would be of assistance.

Young people that we spoke with indicated that their experiences varied. They indicated that they always knew whether a staff member genuinely cared about them. Some staff made a particular effort to express an interest in the youth, to build trust and respect, listen to them and to establish a relationship. As indicated in the report It Depends Who’s Working released by the Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth, young people reported that their experience in custody varied according to which staff were working. The staff in some facilities were described by young people as being more caring overall and the youth experience at that facility was more positive as a result.