NWT mental and sexual health non-profit FOXY has published the results of a study evaluating the program’s early success in the territory.

The study, conducted by FOXY co-founder Candice Lys alongside sexual health researchers Carmen Logie and Moses Okumu, was published in the International Journal of STD and AIDS.

In its abstract, the study says its findings show “FOXY holds promise as an effective method of delivering sexual health information through peer education, and increasing STI knowledge, safe sex self-efficacy, and resilience.”

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Lys and FOXY co-founder Nancy MacNeill say the study provides hard evidence for their program’s positive impact on northern youth.

“This was a larger view of how our participants assess themselves in different types of behaviours after participating in a FOXY peer leadership retreat,” explained MacNeill.

“A day after you teach somebody something they know the thing and it is retained, but how does that work over six months, a year, two years? Over the long-term.

“This study showed participants are showing increased and significant improvements in STI knowledge, safer sex practices, and resiliency. Those are three of the factors we have been measuring and those three things mean a lot to us.

“It says that we’re doing our job.”

In full: FOXY’s study in the International Journal of STD & AIDS

In a news release, FOXY said the pilot study recruited participants from Grade 7-12 classes at secondary schools from 17 communities across the NWT.

The study is the first statistical support for the program, though the researchers, in acknowledging various limitations – ranging from non-random samples and the lack of a control group to issues associated with self-reporting – concluded their results “should be interpreted with caution.”

“Despite these limitations, this study offers strong preliminary evidence on the feasibility of arts-based interventions as an HIV and STI prevention approach,” they added.

FOXY won the million-dollar Arctic Inspiration Prize in 2015. Each of its workshops hosts eight to 15 participants. The program has since been joined by SMASH, an equivalent program for teens who identify as male.

MacNeill said while the research helps demonstrate the effectiveness of FOXY’s programming, it also has broader uses.

“There is a total scarcity of research around arts-based interventions, sexual health in the North, Indigenous folks, women,” MacNeill told Cabin Radio.

“The FOXY program is very pioneering but our research is, too. It’s filling a huge, huge gap.

“The NWT has unique challenges and history but there are other populations, in the circumpolar world and other parts of rural Canada, where this type of research can really help programs to come and the innovation of new, locally based and regionally based programming.

“We know that sexual health isn’t being properly addressed anywhere, consistently, for a huge amount of reasons. It’s really important to have an evaluation base to prove that financial resources are going to programs that work. That’s the bigger picture.”