Detox: A Youth Worker’s Perspective

This week’s guest blog submission is from a Youth Worker at Family Services of Greater Vancouver’s youth detox. She describes her role, and shares some of her experiences, challenges, and rewards as a youth worker.

20150312_175944_detailI am a Youth Worker at Directions Youth Detox, one of Family Services of Greater Vancouver’s youth programs. Working from a harm reduction perspective and within a community group home environment, we provide youth aged 16 to 21 a free, safe, and confidential place to detox from alcohol and drugs. Length of stay is seven days.
We are referred to as a ‘social detox’ because we do not have 24-hour medical supervision from nurses or doctors. If youth require medical supervision– if, for example, they are withdrawing from heavy alcohol use–we will refer them to a medical detox such as Creekside in Surrey.
In addition to weekday doctor, nurse, and acupuncturist visits, we also work closely with Vancouver Coastal Health community health centres and accompany our youth to drop-in health appointments.
Our team meets youth where they are at– whether they are looking towards treatment, or simply want some time off from using. Clients do not have a set schedule of activities to adhere to, but rather take charge in deciding how they would like to spend their time at Detox. Their service plan could involve applying for income assistance, looking for housing, applying for post-detox alcohol and drug treatment, or just rest and relaxation. We often accompany youth to AA, NA, and SMART meetings in the community, and make trips to the park to play outside.

Learning from Youth
20150401_182041_croppedI am coming up to three years at the program; I have learned so much and appreciate each of the youth I have come into contact with. I think everyone, including youth, just wants to be heard and understood. The ability for a worker to validate, empathize, and bear witness to others’ experiences and stories is the most important aspect of working with people, regardless of age.
That being said, we sometimes forget that the youth I work with are teenagers who are learning, growing, and living life just like anyone else their age. Many are facing issues such as body image, dating, heartbreak, family, friends, and work. They are making decisions for the first time ever. This is all in addition to substance use issues. Many experiences are new to them, and they don’t have previous comparable experience to draw upon.
For this reason, when youth come to detox, I prefer not to reduce them to their addiction, but rather, with them taking the lead, allow them to explore other issues that may also be present, and focus on strengths in other areas. For example, we regularly accompany youth to NA meetings because they find them helpful. However, some youth find strength in expressing themselves through art or cooking, so we make time and opportunities for youth to be in touch with this side of themselves, rather than constantly focusing on alcohol, drugs, treatment, and recovery.

Resources for Youth Dealing With Addictions
20150318_143255_cropThere are great resources in the community for youth dealing with addictions, particularly in Metro Vancouver. But youth services in general are lacking. In BC, there are numerous funded programs for adults and children, but not so many youth-specific services in comparison, especially for the 12 to 18 age group. Nonetheless, we are very fortunate in the Lower Mainland to have options. Youth who are dealing with addiction have access to shelter, counselling , detox, treatment, youth community clinics and drop-in centres. We get out-of-town clients because youth-specific alcohol and drug services may not exist elsewhere. For example, in rural communities, youth might have to access mainstream adult resources, or detox at home or in the hospital.

Gauging Success
Our resource is there to meet youth at whatever point they find themselves. It may be widely perceived that a client who successfully completes treatment and remains sober is a ‘success’, but does that mean those who don’t are then ‘failures’?
I feel happiest at work when youth express their gratitude for our resource with simple gestures such as putting dishes away in the sink, drawing thank you posters, and just saying “thanks”. To know that we make a difference, no matter how small, on others’ lives, and that it is recognized, makes me feel our program is a success.20150402_085159_crop

Confronting Stigma
One of the challenges I face in my role is confronting stigma and advocating on behalf of the youth. Oftentimes this means educating others and speaking for the youth when they don’t have the ability or power to advocate for themselves.
 I once brought a youth to VGH emergency for a physical issue. The nurse’s actions and words were very discriminatory against this youth. The youth told me that she had dealt with this nurse prior to entering detox, and that the nurse knew she was a drug user. During intake and bloodwork, the nurse slammed the door, whispered loudly to other staff about this youth, treated the youth roughly, and asked intrusive and disrespectful questions. I could sense the youth was in distress. I confronted the nurse about what she was doing, and asked that she re-examine her underlying judgments and questions. The nurse explained that she had a daughter of the same age, and could not imagine her own daughter going through the same ordeal. This helped me and the youth to understand the nurse’s perspective, but it also served as a wake-up call for this nurse, who really should be providing patient-centred care.

Check Judgment
It is crucial for service providers working with any demographic or population to be aware of their own judgments, and realize that any questions they ask should be for the benefit of the client, rather than for their own curiosity or amusement.
Stigma towards those dealing with addiction issues still widely persists in our society, but with increased awareness, education, and thoughtful appreciation for individuals and their experiences, I believe that change and acceptance is possible.