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Recently I was able to tour the Anago Genest Centre for Youth on Oxford Street. The center is a safe place for male/female youngsters age twelve to eighteen who have been remanded into secure detention pending a court date or are serving a short term custody sentence.

This year the facility will take care of the needs of two hundred and thirty-two youths.

The criminal charges range from assault, theft with violence and other serious offences which would earn an adult five or more years in custody.

The center offers up a secure place for youngsters who are at high risk who often come from dysfunctional families. Many have been sexually, physically & verbally abused. Sometimes the youngsters only viable solution has been to run away from home to live on the streets.

The kids have to learn to deal with the bad hand that they have been dealt learning negative coping skills to survive.

No more then twenty young persons who are in conflict with the law are housed at one time. The duration of a youth’s stay could range from one day to six months. There is approximately a three to one dedicated staff ratio of university/community college Child and Youth Workers.

The Thames Valley School Board, W.D Sutton School, provides teachers year round enabling the youngsters to earn high school credits.

The center helps youngsters to learn acceptable behavior to bring about positive change in their lives. There are lots of fabulous programs that offer the young people support for the day that they will be released.

There is an air conditioned gym an enclosed playing field for sports. The youngsters have taken upon themselves to create a beautiful flower and vegetable garden.

Therapeutic anger awareness/management courses teach the youngsters the importance of interpersonal skills and alternative measures to deal with their problems.

The days are busy with chores after school followed by an hour of rest. After supper there are therapeutic groups followed by recreation time. Lights out at nine thirty. Discipline and routine are very important to those whose lives are in conflict.

The teens sleep in their own monastically furnished rooms with their doors locked with youth workers on duty. No t.v/stereos, cell phones or computers.

I had the opportunity to meet two articulate teenagers. ‘Alex’, a sixteen year old young womsn, has been in the program for twenty-two days. Convicted of break & entry, theft & escaping custody. She has learned that drugs/ stealing are wrong and living on the street is no solution to her problems. She plans on becoming a hair stylist.

‘Bobby Joe’ a thirteen year old male has been in and out of the Genest program eight times. Charged with break & entry & breach of probation. He had problems living in group homes; has not attended school on a regular basis in over two years. With all of his exposure to the courts/legal aid he hopes to become a criminal lawyer.

The philosophy of the Genest Centre: ‘It’s all about mutual respect. Youngsters have to believe that they are worthy. They are not bad kids; they have made bad decisions and are worthy of a second chance.’

Interesting thought that the word Anago means: to lead from one place to a better place; that is what they do with their youth. You can access their web site www.anago.on.ca

Len Lesser

Len Lesser posts a report every week

You can email Len at lenlesser@hotmail.com