Browndale's Re-entry programme is designed to
bridge the gap
between the protected environment of the treatment centre, or the family, and the sometimes harsh realities of living on one's own in the city. We take boys and girls between the ages
of 14 and 19
and I see the programme as a final step in the treatment process for some children and as an alternative for the older adolescent who is unable
to continue living at home for whatever reason, but is not yet able to handle living on his own.
I think not knowing whether or not they can fend for themselves and survive is one of the major sources of anxiety among adolescents. The adolescent is at an age when he knows that soon he will be
out in the world on his own and his big worry is: "Will I be able to make it?" He can learn how in Browndale's Re-entry programme with the help
of some young, knowledgeable staff.
We started the programme
of this year and at the present time we have two adjoining houses with capacity for 24 adolescents. These houses provide a semi-independent living environment
not unlike a college rooming house. Each person has his own room with cooking
facilities. Kids who are working pay rent at a rate commensurate with the going
rate in the neighbourhood. Kids who are
going to school get a living allowance of $20 a week which has to cover
food, car fares, cigarettes and other day-to-day expenses. They also
get a clothing allowance of $20 a month.
kids have available to them staff who can give them practical advice on how to manage their money sensibly. From the staff they
can learn how to plan cheap but nutritious meals, where they can buy 50 cents worth of meat to make a stew, where they can buy cheap
clothes, dodges that help them stretch their dollars. Some kids learn faster than others, but we have a stand-by "soup kitchen" where
hungry kids who've run out of money can get one basic, subsistence meal a day.
Everyone living in a Re-entry house has to be holding down a job, actively looking for one, or involved in some kind of school
or training programme. The Re-entry
house is not a treatment house; and it's not
a place for people to sit around all day, feeling sorry for themselves and getting depressed. No drugs are allowed, no sexual activity
is tolerated in the house, no one under 18 can drink any alcoholic beverage (in
accordance with the Ontario law) and
is expected to steer clear of any other illegal activities. These limits are made clear to the children and they know that violations will result in dismissal from the
children are expected to assume responsibility for the rules and they are also expected to assume responsibility for the care and the maintenance of the house.
Any broken or misplaced items must be replaced or paid for by those responsible.
We try to keep our programme flexible enough to meet the needs of each individual child within the framework of the programme. For some, the Re-entry programme provides a place to live while they get on their feet, find a steady job and
somewhere permanent to live. Others need to live in a Re-entry house for a longer
period of time while they struggle a little more to come to terms with life. These are the kids who need more of a push
to get themselves mobilized around school- or work and some of them may be in
and out of a succession of jobs before they are able to settle into something permanently. For other children, the Re-entry programme provides stability and financial support which enables them to finish their schooling.
A Re-entry house is a good place for kids to live while they are trying out alternatives. It isn't a substitute family, but it is a community. And being a member of a community can provide the energizing
force that many kids need to get them moving in positive directions. Isolation
— and the depression that comes with it — will be one problem these kids won't have to contend with.
houses we have so far are located in east-central Toronto, an area of the city that fits in with the objectives of the programme. It's
a paradise for scroungers. There are all kinds of places in this area where
one can get a free meal, a pair of pants for 35 cents (though not the latest style) and all the other necessities of life cheap. The
only hassle to be faced is competition from all the other scroungers
in the area. But if a teenager can make it
in this area of town, he knows he can make it anywhere.
We could have purchased houses for our programme in a middle class suburban area of the city like Don Mills, but
the way of living in that kind of community is irrelevant to the kids we are trying
to help. Streetcars and buses and walking fit their lifestyle more than cars
in the garage. And a 16-year-old girl trying to survive on her own is more interested in where she can get a loaf of bread for 15 cents
than in the gossip of affluent teenagers hanging around the suburban shopping plazas.
teenager in Don Mills faces the same kind of pressure towards drinking, taking drugs,
or ripping off stores, but the choices are more out in the open in the inner city. Many of the people one meets on
the street bear visual evidence of the choices they have made and drugs, booze
lose their glamour. Just watching police move a wino out of Allan Gardens is an education in itself.
We have three staff working in the programme at present, including myself. I've had 31/2 years experience at Browndale
disturbed children in our therapeutic
family homes and with their families in the community. My wife, who is working for us full time, has also had experience working
as a Browndale therapeutic parenting staff. Our third full time staff person, Paul Taylor, lives in the house. He has several years'
experience working with children and adolescents in arts and crafts programmes at camp and in drop-in centres. We also have one part-time staff. Donna Brown, married with a couple of young children, who has several years' experience
working with emotionally disturbed children in a residential setting.
From our experience so far, I think that many so-called "un-treatable" adolescents will turn out to be very "treatable" in the Browndale Re-entry programme. I think the traditional group home setting doesn't work for some adolescents because it fosters independence at a time when the child is striving to achieve independence and become a person in his own right. Moreover, an 18-year-old boy from
a poor family finds life pretty unreal in a middle class home where he is provided with three meals a day, with no effort required on his part. He knows that a person
can die of starvation or lack of shelter in the area of the city he comes from.
He needs to learn how to look after himself
so that he will know that he can survive in the jungle that the city can be.
I am hoping that our programme will serve more children than those who live in the houses. Already many friends of the kids who live
around in the evening, knowing that they'll find a young, understanding adult to talk to and get advice from without a hassle. Some have stayed over for a night
while they get their bearings. I think this type of informal community resource for young people is badly needed in our city and I hope that in the
future we will
be able to expand our services in this area.