With Trailcross closing, what’s next for youth treatment?

A file photo of Trailcross Youth Treatment Centre in November 2018. Sarah Pruys/Cabin Radio
The Trailcross Treatment Centre in November 2018. Sarah Pruys/Cabin Radio

Fort Smith’s Trailcross Treatment Centre officially closes on October 30, marking a likely change in how youth treatment is managed in the Northwest Territories. 

The eight-bed treatment centre has been run by Nova Scotia-based company Shift since late in 2018, providing mental health treatment and therapy to youth aged 12 to18.

David Maguire, a spokesperson for the NWT’s health authority, said the centre has “had very low occupancy” over the past few years, with only 10 to 15 percent of beds filled. He said occupancy began to decline prior to the start of the Covid-19 pandemic and continued after the public health emergency was over.

The health authority “has determined the best course of action is to provide direct supports to youth who need addictions or mental health services,” Maguire wrote, “while undertaking a review of these services to ensure they are appropriate and effective for NWT residents, youth, and the communities we serve.”



He said any youth remaining in care at Trailcross will receive either in-territory mental health resources, such as counselling; specialized therapeutic placements within the territory; or out-of-territory placements as a last resort.

While the contract wraps up in a week’s time, as first reported by the CBC, things have been winding down for a while. Most of the staff left the building in mid-September.

Maguire said the health authority’s review will involve “a comprehensive assessment of mental health and addictions needs, barriers, and gaps for children and youth within the Northwest Territories, including the role of residential-type treatment facilities.”

This assessment is expected to “result in numerous recommendations,” including what should become of the Trailcross building.



He said the health authority wants to be able to provide a broad spectrum of services to youth, rooted in culture. The assessment will look at on-the-land models of care and ways the territorial government can collaborate with Indigenous partners in provision of treatment to teenagers.

“Often, the best solutions are not based in residential treatment but providing supports to youth within their community or home to address issues,” Maguire wrote, noting the health authority understands in-facility treatment is sometimes still needed.

The territorial government said it is currently piloting therapeutic foster homes, which offer children care in a home setting with caregivers who have specialized training.

That model marks a significant change from how Trailcross was operated during the most recent contract.

Shift had a three-year, $1.4-million contract to operate the centre. In 2018, the company said it planned to rely on southern-based senior staff travelling north to work 10-week rotations in Fort Smith.

Andrew Middleton, the organization’s chief executive, said at the time the fly-in model was developed in response to high burnout rates and “ongoing human resource challenges in the North.”

The territory’s health authority had struggled to find an operator for Trailcross back in 2018, extending the request for proposals twice before Shift finally submitted the only bid.

Maguire said Shift “brought forth new initiatives and was regularly engaging with the leadership team to look at how to progress their services.”

Shift declined to comment on the contract’s expiry.