Brittany Hovanak, now a 24-year-old, admits to having been a troubled teenager. She feels indebted to the staff at the Bay St. George Youth Assessment Centre.
That’s why she stood shoulder to shoulder with those staff members during a demonstration in front of MHA Joan Shea’s office in the Harmon Building in Stephenville Tuesday afternoon.
“I was in a bad place at the time and spent two years and three months over a span of a three-year period in the youth assessment centre,” Hovanak said. “Without this staff, I don’t know if I would have made it through that time.”
Knowing these staff members, Hovanak said, they are definitely still doing good for the people in the centre. She pleaded for Shea and Tony Cornect, legislature members for St. George’s-Stephenville East and Port au Port districts respectively, to not change a thing with the facility or staff.
Today, Hovanak is a mother and a personal care attendant who’s working towards becoming a nurse.
“I would never be where I am today if it wasn’t for these people,” she said. “These people care.”
Tuesday’s demonstration was held by the Newfoundland and Labrador Association of Public and Private Employees (NAPE) — of which staff at the centre are members — along with supporters. The group called on the provincial government to reverse its decision to privatize the group home.
That decision, revealed in Budget 2014, resulted in a new framework for staffed residential care. Part of the process included awarding contracts to the private sector for three group homes, including the Bay St. George Youth Assessment Centre.
The other group facilities affected are T.J MacDonald Achievement Home in Burin and Pine Heights Group Home in Grand Falls-Windsor. Forty-five public sector workers in total will lose their jobs.
Darcy Barry, an employee of the Bay St. George Youth Assessment Centre for the past 17 years, said employees want the facility to remain as is and for these public sector workers to retain their jobs.
He said the workers were surprised to hear that a proposal to operate the facility was not accepted, and employees were given a notice they would be laid off in 60 days. He said the staff didn’t know the proposal was actually a tendering process and that the contract had been awarded to Blue Sky Family Care, a private, for-profit entity.
Barry said none of the employees applied for the positions with Blue Sky, which had previously invited the assessment centre’s staff to attend a job fair for the new facility.
He said some of the staff considered it insulting, since Blue Sky is paying employees $13 per hour. Some staff at the assessment centre who have been in their positions for some time are making $22.60 an hour, plus benefits.
“We know the complex needs of these youth that we’re dealing with and they shouldn’t be placed in the confines of a normal house,” he said.
Joining the demonstration were residents of Stephenville’s Russell Heights, who learned that Blue Sky had purchased a home there. The residents have concerns with such a facility in their neighbourhood.
“We went to the town and, up to yesterday afternoon, a permit wasn’t applied for yet they already had people showing up to start carrying out renovations,” said Maurice Hynes, who lives directly across the road from the house.
Hynes has concerns about a possible rezoning of the street to commercial, considering there will be a Level 4 residential home next door.
Gerard Power said he’s not going to let that happen, especially since there is no access to information on who will be in the home. That information is protected under the Young Offenders Act.
“I have two young daughters, and what kind of a situation will this leave me with?” he asked.
Shea said she is aware of the concerns of staff at the youth assessment centre through a meeting they had with Premier Tom Marshall and Paul Davis, Minister of Child, Youth and Family Services.
“I can’t say here today that the decision will be reversed, but I will say that I’m willing to work with NAPE to see what can be done,” said Shea. “There were times that we had issues with NAPE that we didn’t think we would get past, but we did.”
Furlong said any support NAPE get on the issue would be appreciated and noted that the assessment centre was run by a volunteer board of directors for more than 20 years, which speaks volumes for the support from the community.
“The staff is second to none and they treat these children like their own,” said Furlong. “These are children with complex needs that need special care and that’s what they’ve been getting.”