Project Oasis – New Directions for Children, Youth, Adults and Families

Project OASIS targets young immigrants aged 12 to 19 years living in Winnipeg who are members of, or likely to join, criminal gangs. Most participants are male refugees from various African countries. The project meets a key goal of the Youth Justice Fund: to rehabilitate and reintegrate young offenders through measures outside the formal court process. OASIS features a ”wrap-around” approach to case management and provides access to a wide range of services:

  • academic support to improve school performance and attendance;
  • family support;
  • mental-health assessment and treatment (through both in-house and community resources);
  • training in literacy, numeracy, computer skills and English;
  • recreational activities;
  • life-skills training; and
  • employment resources and assistance with job placements.

The evaluation focused on a two-year period beginning in June 2008.

Upon admission to OASIS, an in-depth, collaborative assessment was conducted of each participant. Participants, along with family members, corrections staff and project staff, were involved in assessments and helped to create customized intervention plans, which typically included referrals to assistance agencies.

Specific plans for each family were also developed and implemented. These plans usually included group counselling and referrals to job and educational services.

In many cases, existing services were inadequate because they could not accommodate youths from foreign cultures. The variety of languages spoken by participants — 14 in all — often made communication difficult.

Partners from both the private and public sectors made important contributions. By 2010, OASIS had forged a total of 126 partnerships with schools, health and social agencies and independent businesses. Private companies comprised 40 percent of OASIS partnerships, providing job opportunities and legal services.

Project assessment

The assessment focused on the period of June 2008 to June 2010, and included both quantitative measures and qualitative evidence. During the assessment period, OASIS provided support to 34 youths and 24 families. The assessment indicated that the project successfully served its priority population through the provision of a variety of services, notably mentoring, employment support and placements, recreational activities and life-skills training. During the assessment period, the number of participants attending school increased by 39 percent.

A focus group involving five OASIS participants was held in December 2010. Most participants indicated that OASIS had helped them find employment and access the supports they needed to stay in school or secure the basic necessities of life. Participants also described the ongoing challenges they faced in trying to change their behaviour.

It should be noted that OASIS hired a graduate of the project in 2010. The youth had thrived under the project and attended Red River College.

Key findings

OASIS served the unique needs of youth refugees in contact with the justice system. Many participants struggled with mental-health issues as a result of trauma suffered in their native countries.

Community partnerships were key to the success of the project. The support provided by private companies — often in the form of job opportunities — was particularly valuable.

Lessons learned

  • Acquiring a permanent office was essential. It took more than six months for the project to secure office space; during this time, the project struggled.
  • Community partnerships were essential to meeting the particular needs of participants.
  • The project placed heavy demands on staff. Many participants experienced the dramatic emotional swings often associated with post-traumatic stress disorder.
  • It can take months to earn the trust of participants.

Conclusion

The OASIS project succeeded in delivering effective services to the target group. It has also established a network of community partners willing to help reintegrate young offenders.

View the project description

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