The Yellowknife Women’s Society is reassuring the public while standing by its policy of hiring people with criminal records after the non-profit received anonymous letters expressing concern about a particular employee.
Bree Denning, executive director at the Yellowknife Women’s Society, said she and the society’s board chair both recently received notes, which included 10-year-old print-outs of a news story, detailing the arrest and conviction of an individual who “works in one of our programs.”
The Yellowknife Women’s Society operates a number of community-based support agencies and programs under its auspices in the city, including Yellowknife Housing First, Yellowknife Work Ready (Common Ground) and the Street Outreach Program. In these programs, which cater to adults only, the society undertakes an “individualized approach” to hiring, according to Denning, allowing residents with criminal records to be employed in certain positions, so they can contribute to their community in a meaningful way.
“(The unknown sender) was concerned because we also operate a daycare,” Denning told Yellowknifer in an interview late last week.
The Centre for Northern Families, a society-run agency located on 54 Street, offers daycare and family support services and plans are underway to add another daycare space at the Yellowknife Women’s Society’s main building on 47 Street in the next six months.
Before a recent move, Housing First and Common Ground were both housed in the 47 Street building. Street Outreach still operates out of the location.
Denning said she believes the anonymous sender was concerned the employee in question would be sharing a space with the new daycare once it opens, a worry she called “commendable.”
But like all other program employees who have criminal records, Denning said the individual in question is prohibited from being on daycare property.
Only employees with both a clean criminal record check and a vulnerable sector check – the latter is a look into someone’s history with children through, for example, child protection databases – are allowed on daycare premises, said Denning.
Denning added the Street Outreach Program will have moved from the 47 Street building before the new daycare opens, meaning all daycare services will be separate from adult-serving programs. “It will be moved to a separate location for that same reason,” said Denning. “Because we won’t have people with criminal records on the premises.”
Denning herself must undergo checks every three years.
For the aforementioned society-run programs that serve adults only, including the Franklin Avenue emergency women’s shelter, criminal record checks are required for new hires entering into positions of trust, or if the employee will be spending one-on-one time with clients or other staff members.
But for those employed by Common Ground, a program that connects residents experiencing homelessness or addiction with work opportunities – hires sometimes have “extensive” or “serious” criminal records, said Denning – criminal record checks, in general, aren’t required.
Denning said that’s because the employees mainly work outdoors: shoveling snow, cleaning the streets and moving furniture. Workers aren’t in positions of trust and are “never alone with anybody,” she added.
A lot goes into the decision process before someone with a criminal record is determined to be a good fit in one of the non-daycare programs.
“For each role, we consider the individual’s history, as well as the nature of their position and have a conversation with the individual about (their criminal record), what they have learned from the experience, and what they have done since their offence to improve their lives,” wrote Denning in an email. She said an offence that happened last year is taken “a lot more seriously” than one committed 25 years ago.“It’s a case-by-case basis,” said Denning.
Denning said programs like Common Ground are giving people with criminal records a chance to reintegrate into the community, allowing them to regain independence and self-respect while bettering the city at the same time.
“Once they’ve done their time and they’re out in the community again, they’re not going anywhere. We can’t exclude people and put them on the margins of society because that’s what keeps people offending; keeps people from re-committing to themselves and to the community,” said Denning.
“If we marginalize people and don’t allow them to participate and make a living for themselves, that really only leaves them with criminal involvement as their option,” she added.
At the same time, Denning said, the society takes the safety and well-being of children in its care “extremely seriously,” and acts diligently to ensure staff and clients are not put at risk.
“We would never employ somebody we thought posed a risk to our staff and our clients,” assured Denning.
Denning declined to say which program the individual is employed in, but said that if the society was to change its policy, and “only employ individuals with clean criminal record checks, multiple programs would (be) impacted.”
In an email, Denning stated the Yellowknife Women’s Society “stands by our decision to provide empowerment opportunities to individuals with criminal records, when appropriate,” adding the society is committed to the “highest safety standards” at its daycare. By creating clear divisions between adult and child programs, Denning said she believes the society is accomplishing both of those goals.