Move ignores victim services’ client needs

Friday, victim services is leaving its street-level office and relocating upstairs. The move ignores client needs, former victim services trauma…

Friday, victim services is leaving its street-level office and relocating upstairs.

The move ignores client needs, former victim services trauma counsellor Jan Forde said on Thursday.

The old office had an open reception area with lots of windows, she said.

“So, you could tell if people were in distress or being followed — it happens a lot — and you could take the appropriate steps.”

To get to the new office, clients enter a windowless tile foyer, turn a blind corner and walk up two flights of stairs.

There’s no one around.

Most of the clients are women who’ve suffered spousal abuse and violence or sexual violence, said Forde.

Many arrive with children and strollers.

Trying to get up the stairs with kids and a stroller would be very difficult, she said.

There’s also a freight elevator in the foyer.

But it runs intermittently.

“And you have to hold the button down the whole time to get to the second floor,” she said.

The move is part of the strategic plan for corrections redevelopment, said Justice spokesperson Dan Cable.

“We looked at the number of clients that visit and determined the most valuable use of space.

“It’s much ado about nothing.”

Justice officials never listened to what frontline workers said worked well for the victims, said Forde.

“Even staff don’t like to use that other entranceway.”

The correctional redevelopment plan, released about a year ago, contains a number of references to a client-centered correctional system, said NDP Leader Todd Hardy during Thursday’s question period.

“One of the very first pages states that victims need support to rebuild a sense of safety and security,” he said.

While page 9 of the plan talks about “creating an environment that encourages staff and volunteer development.”

So why were frontline staff in victim services completely ignored in a recent management decision to move the office? said Hardy.

 “This is an operational issue that I’m not privy to,” said Justice Minister Marian Horne.

“I wish the minister knew what was going on in the department that she is paid to manage — she’s the minister,” said Hardy.

The move doesn’t just affect victim services and its clients, said Forde.

It also undercuts the role of the family violence prevention unit.

The prevention unit and victim services regularly work together on files.

“Splitting us up exacerbates risk factors that we’re presently able to mitigate because we work closely together and collaborate on a daily basis,” said Forde.

Before, when an angry offender came into the office looking for the victim services worker who assisted his partner, staffers could summon family violence prevention unit workers to help calm things down.

The prevention unit would also explain the services they could offer and initiate a positive connection with the individual, said Forde.

“It was an integrated response to family and sexual violence,” she said.

“And it was one of the best programs in Canada.”

This summer, victim services and the prevention unit learned about the move.

On July 19th, a memo was sent to then community and correctional service director Sharon Hickey, who was later fired.

It read, “victim services and the family violence prevention unit are united in our opposition to this proposed move.

“The philosophy underlying our provision of integrated services is victim-centred.

“While just having to walk upstairs or phone someone does not at first appear to be a big impediment to free flowing communication, there would be less informal contact, fewer ad-hoc case conferences when something arises and far less opportunity to catch someone on the fly for consultation or to pass on new information.

“The safety issue is paramount here.”

It’s not always easy for clients to come to victim services.

Many are scared, said Forde.

The new office upstairs will definitely deter clients, she said.

Justice’s redevelopment plan is not victim friendly, added Forde.

And victim services was not involved in the planning process.

“There were discussions with staff, despite Ms. Forde’s misgivings,” said Cable.

“But none of us were allowed on the committee that was making the decisions,” said Forde.

The programs and services advisory committee members include the Salvation Army’s Capt. Robert Sessforde, Yukon Housing Corp.’s Don Routledge, Michelle Kola of Skookum Jim Friendship Centre, Yukon College’s Charles Stuart, several Justice officials, Debbie Parent from Yukon Learn and a number of other non-government organizations and First Nations representatives.

Victim services and the prevention unit are not on the list.

“Can the minister explain why this important committee has no representation from either victim services or the family violence prevention unit?” said Hardy.

“We leave these things up to the operations of the department,” said Horne.