Wabano Way Youth Intervention and Diversion Program
The Wabano Centre for Aboriginal Health, which provides primary health care and other supporting social services to the Aboriginal population in the Ottawa area, completed a two-year intervention program, Wabano Way. The Centre received funding for the program in 2007, enabling it to start providing post-charge referral programs for Aboriginal youth aged 12 to 17, involved or at risk of being involved in gang-related activities.
The program provided a community-based, culturally competent alternative to traditional court. This included engaging and assisting parents and the community in carrying out a plan to prevent repeat offending, avoiding the labeling effects of court involvement, and developing a range of meaningful consequences to the young person to reflect the community’s concern for their rehabilitation and restitution to the victim.
Initially, the Wabano Way program was to accommodate 100 youth over the project duration, roughly half of whom were to be pre-charge and half post-charge. In reality, however, there were only 22 post-charge referrals, the majority of which involved youth charged with assault, theft, drug possession or intimidation. Only 12 youth were considered as having completed their diversion program as per their plan of care and agreement with Wabano Way.
Very few pre-charge referrals were received. According to the Ottawa Community Diversion Program database search, five referrals were made to the Wabano Way program, with three cases completed in terms of compliance with diversion plan.
While at-risk youth were not a focus of the program, Wabano did receive and accept referrals of 63 at-risk youth aged 11 to 17, who were channeled into various Wabano programs.
The Wabano Way consisted of two components: an intervention component, which targeted low and moderate risk youth who demonstrated anti-social behaviour, but who were otherwise not criminally active and therefore not subject to YCJA provisions; and a diversion component, designed for youth who had committed a criminal offence and who were dealt with either on a pre-charge or a post-charge basis. The second or diversion component was the focus of this evaluation.
The referral of the offender to the program was done by an Ottawa Police Service member in consultation with an Ottawa police diversion/intervention coordinator. If the youth and their caregivers consented to participating in the program, a more in-depth assessment of the youth was completed using standardized instruments to help design a comprehensive plan of care.
The intake process was as follows: meeting, in-depth assessment, acceptance into the program, and case planning. The case plans typically involved an intervention of three to four months, involving accountability measures such as counseling, peer mediation, restorative justice projects, information sessions, participation in civic projects, etc.
Interviews using standardized questions were conducted with 18 program stakeholders.
Out of 12 youth participants who completed the program, six agreed to participate in program evaluation interviews. Participants’ feedback was also obtained through standardized questionnaires.
Standardized Assessment Tools, including the How I Think Questionnaire (HITQ) and the Child Behaviour Checklist (CBCL), were employed during the intake process to measure the effect of the intervention. While the sample size of the program was too small to achieve statistical significance, the testing results show slight improvement in the post-program social functioning of the participants.
Recommendations for the future include improving the streaming of Aboriginal youth to programs such as this, focusing on post-referral activities, ensuring staff continuity and improving information management. It is also important that agencies providing new services assess whether there is an adequate need for their services, spend considerable time networking with related service providers and ensure that their staff have the right skills.
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