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A Harm Reduction Approach

Our Integrated Youth Services Site, known as the Outreach and Youth Engagement (OYE) Centre, operates as a satellite site for the Safe Works Access Program (SWAP). Choices for Youth (CFY) works with the Tommy Sexton Centre (AIDS Committee of NL) to maintain a supply of safe works for the young people who connect with our OYE program. These items are provided for free, without judgment, to any young person who needs them.

SWAP reflects a harm-reduction approach to supporting young people. It meets young people wherever they are in their lives, recognizing that some young people will opt for substance use or engage in other high-risk behaviours. Supplies provided through SWAP include safe injection tools, pipes, and contraceptives, as well as items like fentanyl testing strips and naloxone kits. By providing a safe location for youth to easily access these supplies, we are reducing the potential harm young people may experience from these behaviours.

Erica Norman, Outreach and Youth Engagement Program Coordinator

“It’s an amazing collaboration that provides youth with a safe place to come to get safe supplies. The idea is, these people are going to use anyway, so how can we make it as safe as possible? It’s a big piece of Outreach’s program and allows us to build relationships with the young people.”

In addition to OYE handing out safe supplies to youth, it creates an opportunity for CFY staff to interact with them, build relationships, and offer other supports. Young people accessing SWAP can begin building trust with the OYE team, making them likely to return to OYE for assistance if and when they are ready to make a change in their lives. OYE leverages the relationships they form as opportunities to offer other services. For example, if the OYE team identifies the potential for illness or infection during an interaction with a young person, thanks to CFY’s integrated services for youth, they can connect them with in-house medical services before it becomes a more significant issue that would create another obstacle for them to overcome. As the OYE team’s relationship with a young person accessing SWAP grows, it creates opportunities to speak with the youth about why they are engaging in high-risk behaviours, leaving the door open for the young person to make a change or pursue treatment if and when they are ready.

Katie Hopkins, Outreach and Youth Engagement Team Lead

“How I see the SWAP, for us, is as just another service of an Integrated Youth Services hub. Youth are building trust with the staff, and they are getting medical, food, whatever they need…it’s just another easy-to-access service that youth can get in one place.”

There is also a great opportunity to educate young people when they access SWAP through OYE. Rather than simply providing the items, the staff can take a moment to explain the importance of testing their substances prior to use, educate young people about the risk of opioid poisoning, advise them to have others around when they use or provide information about safe sex. These small touchpoints make a tremendous impact in reducing the potential harm for youth engaged in high-risk behaviours.

Having our centre as a SWAP satellite site is just one example of how CFY operates with a harm-reduction approach. We continue to focus on helping youth make the choices that will result in the least amount of harm to them at that moment. Through continued support and relationship building, we then work to equip youth to make healthier choices in the future.

Erica Norman, Outreach and Youth Engagement Program Coordinator

“It opens up conversations about the whys – why they are using. Because they trust us, they know we aren’t going to judge, sometimes you can get more into what’s behind their use and what led them to their choices.”

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