The Ndinawe Child and Youth Care Certificate Program (NCYCCP) is a post-secondary education program for formerly sexually exploited individuals in Winnipeg, Manitoba. The full-time, one-year college program is offered in partnership with Red River College Polytechnic (RRC Polytech) and Ndinawemaaganag Endaawaad Inc. since 2007. It offers accredited training using foundational knowledge and practical experiences for students to support children, youth, families and communities as youth support workers. This training comes from a variety of trauma-informed, relational, and anti-oppressive frameworks. For the majority of students, this program is the first step in ending a cycle of poverty and reliance on social assistance. Students have the opportunity to work towards healing themselves and rebuilding their lives while embarking on a career path that can have a direct positive impact on their own families and on children and youth in their larger community.
Ginelle Giacomin and Sam Hupé-Wells led this research project to assess the long-term outcomes following graduation for alumni of the NCYCCP. Interviews were conducted with twenty-three alumni of the program from eleven of the thirteen graduating cohorts. Most participants self-identified as Indigenous, thirteen of whom were intergenerational survivors of the residential school system. Just over half of interviewees had less than a grade twelve education prior to attending the program and all were receiving Employment and Income Assistance, a criteria for enrollment.
When they first began the program, participants reported facing a number of barriers and challenges including emotional impacts of past trauma, financial instability, lack of access to affordable housing and childcare, and academic readiness. They also reported coming into the program with strengths including sobriety, time spent in therapy/dealing with their past trauma, courage and determination, family support, lived experience, and connection to Indigenous cultures.
The NCYCCP is rooted in Indigenous teachings within a holistic framework. Ndinawe and RRC Polytech staff work together to deliver the curriculum, which includes ceremony and teachings, to work towards educational growth, understanding, and healing. Success is not only measured in the future employability of graduates, and the program’s multi-faceted approach is key to students’ growth and success. When asked to describe what aspects of the program they felt were integral to their successes, alumni highlighted the integration of Indigenous cultures and traditions, having a supporting environment in which to heal from common traumas, receiving wrap-around academic and practical supports, and the family-like network of care within the program formed by instructors, Ndinawe staff and fellow students.
The economic and social impacts of sexual exploitation in Canada are great. Public sector costs, including emergency room visits, long-term medical care, victim support services, long-term mental health supports, justice involvement, legal, and social assistance are reduced when people are no longer exploited. The community benefits immensely by having trained child and youth care workers who understand and can speak to the real issues faced by youth in their communities. This program both supports those formerly exploited and allows them in turn to support youth who may themselves be at risk of sexual exploitation with positive impact on all.
The results of this research show that NCYCCP is an important and effective program, in both human and economic terms. Most participants felt that attending this program was life-changing and they questioned where their life would be without it, with 83 percent maintaining consistent employment after graduation. Transformative changes were shared by all alumni interviewed, with an array of long-term outcomes impacting every aspect of their lives: personal well-being, family, education, and employment. Its immeasurable value extends beyond students and their families to the broader community. Notable benefits include: closer and healthier relationships with their children, increased coping skills, reduction in poverty, and improved self-esteem.
Graduates also suggested improvements to the program, including expanding to other fields beyond youth and child care and extending to a two-year program. The need is great for adult educational programs that support students wholly to ensure their success. Others can take their lead from this partnership and financial support should remain strong for the NCYCCP and other programs like it for the benefit of individuals and their communities. The NCYCCP reduces involvement in and reliance on government-funded social supports and improves the well-being of its graduates. The positive intergenerational impacts as well as the influence they have as child and youth care workers supporting youth is truly beyond measure.