Behind the Door

Behind the Door

The Children

System kid, client, delinquent, runaway, youth offender, foster child, truant, protection case, juvy, troubled youth, the list of labels you can attach to children that come in contact with the juvenile justice system is vast and complex. The terminology used to describe every file is specific to each Canadian province and even within individual social welfare agencies, but what is often forgotten is no matter what we describe these children as, fundamentally they all grow into adults.

What happened to the adult children of Shawbridge Boy’s Farm, aka, Shawbridge Youth Centres has been Erika Tafel’s focus for more than a decade now, and in the microcosm of collecting their stories, a bigger picture comes into view. If we are to improve the lives of children within the system today, we must be much more diligent about studying the lingering corollaries of our past efforts.     

Below you’ll find links to a bit of what the picture of juvenile justice looks like in Canada today. What the stats and articles won’t show is the human face. They don’t tell you the histories and long-term effects on the children they describe. That’s where we come in. Collecting stories from one of Canada’s oldest children’s institution auspiciously exposes the culture of juvenile justice in all of them. A pattern emerges with all its human complexities when you start listen, but to really affect change within any culture, we have to change the story. Ask us how you can help. 


The Damage

To some the juvenile welfare system is viewed as a benevolent paternal alternative to a childhood of abuse and neglect. To the children living within the Canadian institutions mandated to protect them, it’s never that easy.

Some of the patterns we recognized in the stories we were hearing was that most often the abuse and neglect experienced within family units, simply changed and transformed into more complex patterns of mistreatment outside of it. Children’s experiences within the system were too often just a continuation of the social injustices they had already experienced. 

Even more disturbing was the collection of stories from those who weren’t abused or neglect at home, but found their way into the system through some other act or behavior setting them on the path to possible criminalization. 


The Cost: Youth Custody in Canada

The Changing Nature of Rehabilitation in Canadian Youth Justice
by Kathryn M. Campbell, Department of Criminology, University of Ottawa 2005.

As a response to youth crime, rehabilitative interventions may take a variety of forms, can be provided by a number of individuals with varying qualifications, and are offered in several different arenas. Consequently, these services tend to vary with respect to costs and given that provincial governments are responsible for the administration of justice, there is much variation in the nature and types of programs offered across the country. In terms of the tariff of sanctions for law-breaking behaviour, the most severe of these, secure custody, is also the most costly. The price of locking up a young person in a secure custody facility is approximately $126 000 per youth, per year. Open custody facilities are somewhat less expensive at $93 000 per youth, per year.2 Community-based programs cost considerably less. Multi-systemic therapy, which allows a young person to live at home with intensive family intervention and support, costs approximately $6000 to $7000 per youth (Leschied and Cunningham, 2001). This is somewhat more costly than other, less intensive community-based interventions. Finally, supervision on probation is the least costly, at approximately $600 to 700 per year (Bell, 2003, pp. 281–282). Read More


The History: Juvenile Justice in Canada


How you can help

There is a number of ways you can help.

  • Please visit our sponsor/donate page to learn more about the organizations working to make kids lives safer and send a generous donation. Sponsor / Tickets
  • Visit The Slave To The Farm website where you can purchase a copy of the book that started it all Slave to the Farm
  • Share your story about juvenile justice with us and be part of the documentary. Contact Erika Tafel to find out more and how you can be involved. Contact Us