The Youth Connection Program is a collaborative response to youth who sexually offend and/or struggle with sexual behaviour concerns. With funding from the federal government, the program operates out of the Lloydminster Sexual Assault Services facility and is now in its third year.
Community Initiatives Director Heather Sinfield says the program has served just about 60 youth between 12-17 years.
About five-years ago, LSAS had noticed an increase in youth referrals who were struggling with sexual behaviour concerns or committing sexual offences. Several regional groups including RCMP, social services, children services, mental health and addictions, Alberta Community Corrections, Lloydminster Region Health Foundation and both local school divisions were involved in conversations which led to development of strategies, programming and the application for federal funding. This would allow the youth to access programs in this region rather than being on a waitlist for services in urban centres.
Sinfield says the Youth Connection Program looks at respectful accountability for the youth, with support as well for parents/caregivers and siblings.
“Even if someone is young, like a teenager and they do something that isn’t okay like sending sexual explicit messages without permission – that would be something that would be a fit for this program. Respectful accountability says,”Hey you did something that’s not okay and you need to be held accountable for that.””
Over several sessions, Sinfield says the youth are helped to see their actions in a new light.
“Studies show too – the reason we really wanted this program is that if youth are held accountable for these behaviours; for these thoughts, for these actions, then there is a reduction in them doing it again. This program is for them to explore that safely and be able to understand things in a healthy way moving forward – so that when they are adults, they are not impacting or harming anybody.”
LSAS doesn’t work with youth until any criminal matters are closed. A youth can be mandated to the program and this will come via Community Corrections, says Sinfield. They are presently looking at building a sexual violence prevention program.
“What we are looking at doing, is building a prevention division at LSAS – and really looking at true, honest and authentic prevention of sexual violence. And that does start at younger ages – how we teach, how we demonstrate, how we model. The beliefs and values that we hold,” says Sinfield.
The Youth Connection Program is another option in the tool bag that LSAS has at their facility. However, the building which houses all these programs is in need of repairs to its foundation at a cost of $450,000.
Details of the fundraising efforts and the upcoming gala in February can be found on the LSAS website.