‘Emotionally, kids are sick of the mask’: Staff shortages put added stress on youth home

By Taylor McClure – Special to Brome County News

Brome-Missisquoi Adolescents and Youth Services (BMAYS), a home built through the Brome-Missisquoi Youth Foundation, and accommodates eight at-risk English-speaking youth in the region, is once again facing Covid measures that are not only affecting staff, but youths who live full time at the home. Add a staffing shortage to an already difficult situation, the home hopes to find new members to join their team to continue to provide quality services that have supported the Anglophone population in Brome-Missisquoi for decades.

“I think both the staff and the kids went through a life change,” said Stephanie Kokitko, clinical director at BMAYS. “We had a concentration of kids in one house that we witnessed being affected by it. We restricted all visitations home with the first lockdown and it was really hard on the kids who go home to see their families on the weekends.”

The group quickly needed to find new ways of communication and opened up more wi-fi access. “We eliminate a lot when kids don’t have access to it, but when online schooling came in, it changed our world because we had to open it up. We also had to offer ways of communicating other than the telephone. Seeing the face of family members is more beneficial than speaking on the phone and we decided at that point, we couldn’t keep that world. With wi-fi, kids can see their families if they really need to, not physically, but a familiar face goes a long way.”

With everything shifting to online, staff faced additional pressures. “We are educator-youth workers, but we work more on a psychological level. We are not teachers, but in the past two years we’ve had to be teachers because of online schooling. We had to discipline them and make sure they were doing what they’re supposed to being doing. It’s been an eye-opening experience for us.”

Currently, youth living at the home are required to wear a mask at all times except for when they are in their bedrooms, leaving some emotionally drained. “It depends on the individual, but we have certain individuals who are sick of the mask and sit in their room most of the day for much longer than we’d like, but it’s their right; it’s a home.”

Staff are also required to wear masks and they must be vaccinated. This requirement, however, does not apply to the youth. “They are encouraged to be vaccinated, otherwise we can’t include them in activities where you have to have proof of double vax. We don’t pressure them to do it, but because of the experience, they feel pressured to do it. It’s never mandatory, but kids are like I’m missing out so book the appointment. It’s really impacted some of the kids.”

Kokitko said that BMAYS also lost some staff due to the situation. “I’ve had some of my staff, especially overnight staff, leave, because we often have retired people to take that position. Someone who worked with us for 26 years retired and it was due to Covid. Some people are more vulnerable and worried. One employee didn’t come to work a few times because of Covid. Being in such a small space and having very few staff to work with, when someone drops out like that , it has an impact on the whole team. People have been doing more and working shifts that aren’t theirs.”

Despite putting out various calls to the community, it’s been radio silence. “I don’t know if it’s Covid or working with teens, but they seem hesitant. I’m not getting a lot of responses from the public announcements I make to look for staff and recruits. It’s a new experience. We have always had turnovers when it comes to staff, but not like this. I think it’s an anxiety and not being comfortable with the situation.”

For those interested in applying, visit https://www.facebook.com/groups/303724346730066 and look for a job posting listed under Stephanie Kokitko.

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