The new operator of Fort Smith’s Trailcross Youth Treatment Centre will rely on southern-based senior staff travelling north to work 10-week rotations in the community.

SHIFT, which is assuming control of operations at the centre, says it will use a hybrid staffing model whereby some staff are based in the community, while others – including the centre’s leadership team – work rotations.

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

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Middleton said he believes the fly-in model works, but Charles Zikalala – the director of community living in Cambridge Bay, where SHIFT used to operate another group home – criticized the model.

“It’s hard on the community,” Zikalala told Cabin Radio.

Hiring to begin mid-December

Middleton said SHIFT is aiming to have positions posted on December 10.

Hiring will be done over late December, and training will take place in early January.

According to Middleton, former Trailcross staff – who worked at the centre when it was run by former operator Wood’s Homes – will go through the same hiring process as everyone else, if they choose to apply.

SHIFT is looking to hire 15 people in Fort Smith for full-time and part-time positions, ranging from child and youth care workers, to housekeeping and cooking positions, to “cultural guidance” positions.

“We’re looking for people who have an attraction to the north, who see the adventure in this, are in it for the long-haul, and are willing to learn our model and learn our approach and work with us; and that’s proven to pan out over the last number of years,” Middleton said.

But the leadership team – including an on-site supervisor, a clinical therapist, and child and youth care practitioners (who typically have more education and experience than child and youth care workers) – will most likely be filled by the fly-in team.

When asked if SHIFT would consider hiring locals for the leadership team if they had the proper experience and education, Middleton said: “Our primary goal is ensuring that the care that is provided for the youth that are being placed at Trailcross is of the highest calibre.

“That’s our priority number one … but then you get into specifics surrounding employment status, and income, and what you’re paid. That makes it complicated.

“I’m not going to comment publicly on any of our hiring practices, quite honestly.”

The leadership team will be supported by an interdisciplinary management team at the Nova Scotia-based head office which oversees the program.

The fly-in team

Approximately six southerners will make up the fly-in team, many of whom already do locum work in northern communities for SHIFT.

We don’t have a fly-in replacement model, we have long-term staff members who live in southern communities and work a rotation in the north,” said Middleton.

“And it’s no different than people that work in Fort Mac or work on drilling rigs. It’s high-intensity work that often is accompanied with a significant amount of burnout, so we give them an opportunity to take advantage of these work opportunities but still retain the life that they have, so they don’t have to uproot and sell their car and get rid of their apartment.

“A significant number of people would like to experience working in the North but don’t necessarily want to move to the North,” he said, explaining that the fly-in model offers them “a true northern experience,” the opportunity to participate in on-the-land activities, and provide “capacity-building training” to local employees.

‘People can go and will come back’

While the benefits to southern workers and the company are obvious, Cabin Radio questioned the fly-in model’s impact on local staff and youth in care.

In response, Middleton said SHIFT hopes to implement a training program for all staff. Training would include standard first-aid, non-violent crisis intervention, and suicide intervention training, as well as “some foundational aspects to child and youth care practice, which is understanding relational practice, understanding trauma, and understanding the life space the youth that come into care are often in,” he said.

“We want there to be a strong enough and robust enough workforce that there isn’t necessarily a need for a fly-in staff,” Middleton continued.

“I think profound learning is made available by having really qualified, energetic, and educated individuals coming up north and working, and that way you can partner them with people who may not have had the opportunity to take advantage of a post-secondary education in child and youth care, or may not have had the opportunity to take advantage of training and development initiatives simply because they’re not available in a northern community.”

As for the youth, Middleton said a healthy program means healthy kids.

“If anything, [the fly-in model] teaches positive relationships to the youth – that people can go and they will come back,” he said, referencing the 10-week rotations a quarter of the staff will be on.

A part of the community?

“We really invest in the community,” said Middleton, mentioning that the company is purchasing a house in Fort Smith.

“We really try to work within the community, and part of that is learning the ebbs and flows of it.”

But Zikalala, director of healthy living for the Hamlet of Cambridge Bay in Nunavut, said when SHIFT operated the 4D North Centre for Youth in the community, the fly-in model didn’t work as well as Middleton claims.

“I want to have staff members who are based in the community. It allows for continuity of programs and also for clients to build that rapport,” said Zikalala, adding that approach also allows for staff to build relationships with the community.

“The fly-in doesn’t work too well for the community because the clients have to tell their stories all over again, which isn’t ideal: the relationship is broken and you have to start again.

“It’s good to bring in consultants periodically to check in with the clients and do assessments, but preferably it’s better to have local staff members who are based in the community to do work.”

SHIFT, which was previously called Atlantic Youth, operated 4D from 2014 until it closed earlier this year.

The organization continues to run the Illagiittugut Centre for Youth in Iqaluit.