Windsor Police, Youth Wellness Hub partner to support children and youth at risk of exploitation

Windsor Police Service News Update
December 5, 2023

Windsor Police, Youth Wellness Hub partner to support children and youth at risk of exploitation 

The Windsor Police Service, in conjunction with Youth Wellness Hub Windsor-Essex, is pleased to announce the launch of a new program to support children and youth at risk of exploitation.

The Return Support Discussion Program will connect recently returned or located missing children and young people with a Youth Wellness Hub Peer Support Worker. These voluntary discussions will offer opportunities for the children and youth to safely share their lived experiences and any risks or harm they faced during their missing episodes. They will also give the children and youth the chance to share information that might help to safeguard them from going missing again. 

Themes identified through aggregate data will be shared with police to help identify trends and proactively respond to the risks and harm children and youth face during missing episodes, including criminal activity, sexual exploitation, domestic abuse, and mental health issues.  

The program is the first of its kind in Canada and can be used as a prototype for other communities across the country.

“We are excited to partner with Youth Wellness Hub Windsor-Essex on this important new program,” said Jason Crowley, Deputy Chief of Operations. “Child exploitation is a pervasive problem that requires a collective response to effectively address and overcome. This initiative will enable us to work together to develop comprehensive strategies and more helpful practices to prevent at-risk children and youth from being exploited.”

The Return Support Discussion Program is supported by a $96,954 grant from the Government of Ontario​. The funding will support a full-time Peer Support Worker at the Youth Wellness Hub as well as fundamental education and training for frontline police officers. 

In addition, 200 backpacks and resources to promote wellness will be purchased and provided to the Youth Wellness Hub to distribute to youth that access this program. Each backpack will include essentials to help young people survive on the streets, such as water, food, warm clothing, and hygiene products. A total of 10 video game consoles will also be provided to the group homes to encourage social interaction and foster a sense of community while in residential care.

“It is exciting to be part of a project that is based well in research and that is filling a gap in our community. When the Windsor Police Service approached us to collaborate on this project, with or without the grant funding, we couldn’t say no,” said Angela Thompson, Operations Manager for the Youth Wellness Hub. “We aim for this program to mitigate safety risks of youth that leave home and reduce the number of missing incidents by providing support and connection to resources. Youth are often leaving home as an attempt to cope or communicate something. Through this project we will be able to listen and provide alternative safe ways to cope.”

In 2022, 89 children and young people (between 12-25 years old) went missing in Windsor and Amherstburg. Many of these children and young people went missing more than once, resulting in 679 individual missing reports recorded by the Windsor Police Service.

Statements from community partners: 

“The Windsor-Essex Children’s Aid Society (WECAS) understands the importance of having a community-based response to youth who have been exploited. Working outside of our silos creates an environment of support for youth to identify if they have been exploited and provides them with a safe opportunity to ‘exit’ when entrenched in trafficking. WECAS applauds this initiative between the Windsor Police Service and the Youth Wellness Hub in bringing the Return Support Discussion program to some of our most vulnerable citizens in Windsor-Essex.”

- Derrick Drouillard, Executive Director, Windsor-Essex Children’s Aid Society 

“Human trafficking, child and youth exploitation is on the rise, and it is the entire community’s responsibility to protect our children. The Inn of Windsor is in full support of the Return Support Discussion Program as it will assist in addressing why kids go missing and help prevent child exploitation.”

- Sherri Lebert, Executive Director, The Inn of Windsor 

“On behalf of the executive, foster parents, fostered youth and staff of Unison Treatment Homes for Youth Inc., I want to thank you for supporting our ‘at-risk youth’ by providing these gaming systems. These systems will not only provide entertainment but will also provide our youth with social interaction that connects them online to peers, classmates, family and others who share in the playing of these games with them.

Many of our youth are at risk of involvement with traffickers as well as other negative influences luring them to the streets and away from their foster homes. Creating a more family atmosphere with positive activities may help to keep them engaged and away from otherwise negative situations.”

- Phillip Thibert, Executive Director, Unison Treatment Homes for Youth Inc.

For further information:
Contact the WPS Corporate Communication Unit's Public Information Officer at (519) 255-6700 ext. 4441.

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