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Manitoba to continue to support program that prevents youth sexual exploitation

AP Photo/Binsar Bakkara

The Manitoba government is supporting a successful approach to preventing sexual exploitation and helping protect at-risk youth in Thompson and surrounding regions using the StreetReach model, Families Minister Rochelle Squires and Justice Minister Cameron Friesen announced Tuesday in a press release.

According to the release, the StreetReach model brings together representatives of child welfare agencies, law enforcement and non-governmental organizations to protect children and youth who are at risk of violent victimization through the sex trade.

The group works together to:

  • Prevent children and youth from running away from home or other residences;
  • Prevent sexual abuse and exploitation;
  • Redirect runaway children to stop them from becoming victims; and
  • Intervene with those who exploit young, high-risk victims.

“Our government understands that protection of high-risk youth calls for a multidisciplinary approach with professionals from a variety of fields working together and with communities,” said Squires.

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In 2019, the Manitoba government announced a one-time investment of $124,000 to re-establish the program in Thompson, as well as annual funding of more than $2 million over three years.

Read more: Winnipeg police special project finds missing at-risk youth

“A great deal has been accomplished since then and I am pleased to provide an update on the success of this community-specific program,” Squires added.

StreetReach North is now operating out of the Macdonald Youth Services Safe House, which enables the team to build relationships there.

In addition to Macdonald Youth Services and the City of Thompson, key partners include the Awasis Agency of Northern Manitoba and the RCMP.

“Our youth are a critical part of Thompson’s present and its future. They deserve compassionate and accessible care when they are in crisis, and we are thrilled to hear that the expanded StreetReach program has been a success so far,” said Thompson Mayor Colleen Smook.

“Awasis Agency of Northern Manitoba has partnered with the StreetReach program since 2020 and it has been a privilege to be a part of an important program in the north,” said Patricia Spence, child abuse co-ordinator, Awasis Agency of Northern Manitoba.

Read more: Manitoba announces $900K in funding to combat child exploitation

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“StreetReach gives high-risk youth the opportunity to connect with front-line support workers when they are in personal crisis, and ensures they receive timely assistance and guidance to sustain their overall health and well-being,” said Chris Hastie, acting commander, Manitoba RCMP North District.

From June 2020 to August 2021, StreetReach North helped return 473 children and youth to their placements or places of safety and made 2,458 relationship-building contacts with youth.

“The long-standing partnership between StreetReach, RCMP, the City of Thompson and the community has been instrumental in responding quickly to at-risk and high-risk youth. We thank all of our partners for their efforts to keep youth safe,” said Friesen.

StreetReach is part of Tracia’s Trust, the Manitoba government’s strategy to prevent sexual exploitation of children and youth. The ministers noted the investments build on the Tracia’s Trust strategy and recommendations made by the Manitoba Advocate for Children and Youth, as well as by the VIRGO report.

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