Staff at the Bay St. George Youth Assessment Centre have been notified their jobs will soon be gone, and Stephenville Coun. Laura Aylward is expressing her concern.
“(The centre) is being contracted out and the new owners will probably be paying minimum wage,” said Aylward. “It’s irresponsible for government to be doing that.”
She believes the Youth Assessment Centre should have been kept under the Department of Health and Community Services instead of being moved to Child, Youth and Family Services.
Deputy Mayor Mike Tobin was upset that there was no collaboration with town council.
“(Councillors) didn’t know a thing about it, they just came in and staff received their notices on Monday,” Tobin said at last Thursday’s regular council meeting.
Mayor Tom O’Brien said Stephenville will still have the equivalent of the services the centre provided, but Aylward questioned how much money government will be saving by making this move.
Child, Youth and Family Services Minister Paul Davis said his department coming to this point has been a gradual evolution since the department was formed in 2009. He said these changes were spurred by recommendations contained in the 2010-11 auditor general’s report.
The report recommended the department move to competitive services with a focus on quality. The result was the provincial government’s March 24 announcement of a new framework for staffed residential care, which Davis said will enhance the care options for children and youth in need of out-of-home placements.
Davis said the contracts, some of which span three fiscal years, have been negotiated at a total cost of $36 million. He added the contracts will focus on providing greater stability and improved programming for more than 100 children and youth with complex emotional, medical and/or behavioural needs.
Davis said the Bay St. George Youth Assessment Centre, a not-for-profit organization, bid on the contract to provide the service, but the successful bidder was Blue Sky Family Care, a for-profit entity.
“This is not a privatization, it’s basically a change from one operator to another,” Davis said.
Davis said the number of spaces in Stephenville will not change, but the centre’s location in the town might. The current facility is owned by the Newfoundland and Labrador Housing Corporation.
The minister said it’s up to Blue Sky to choose where those five spaces will be and they don’t necessarily have to be all in the same building.
Anne Whalen, executive director of Blue Sky Family Care, said the company’s staff are certainly paid good wages. She said they are unionized and part of the collective agreement with the Newfoundland Association of Public and Private Employees (NAPE). Blue Sky also has national accreditation, she added.
As part of the bid on the local contract, Whalen said, the organization was asked to locate its operation in the same community as where it is currently being operated, and Blue Sky is making that commitment.
She said Blue Sky will be holding a public meeting in Stephenville to seek staff. Whalen said anyone, including employees of the Bay St. George Youth Assessment Centre, are welcome to drop by for an interview.