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South Island on verge of losing frontline counsellor as youth exploitation cases spike

Funding for Mia Golden’s position ends on Mar. 31, with other options being explored
Mia Golden, a child, youth and family counsellor at Pacific Centre Family Services Association coordinates the Mobile Youth Service Team with Victoria Police Const. Gord Magee. (Black Press Media file photo)

Mia Golden usually starts each day with a specific plan.

Golden is a youth counsellor with Pacific Centre Family Services Association in Langford, working with the Mobile Youth Services Team (MYST), which she coordinates with Victoria Police Const. Gord Magee.

Her day would ideally focus on working her way through a list of youth who Golden and Magee would track down and visit - offering support and counselling services. But that plan often goes out of the window early in the day.

“Then we have to triage every morning as emergencies happen and we choose which to prioritize,” said Golden.

Golden – who also serves as the coordinator for the Crime Exploitation and Exploitation Diversion (CRED) – is regularly helping around 200 youth across southern Vancouver Island.

That number, however, could easily double if there more staff were available. Golden said her team (which includes her and Magee) could triple or quadruple in size and they’d still be run off their feet.

But instead of growing, the team may soon shrink with the funding for Golden’s position set to run out on March 31 and the Pacific Centre still looking for an alternative source of funding, according to Liz Nelson, executive director at the association.

The money originally came from the federal government’s Gun and Gang Violence Action Fund, initially for a three-year term, although that was extended for a fourth year. A number of municipalities have written letters calling on the provincial government to provide stable funding for the program, including Sooke and Metchosin. But so far the money hasn’t been found.

“I’m just kind of in denial about it, the impact it to families losing the position would have, I don’t want to think about it,” Golden said.

This comes as Golden’s team has never been busier. A myriad of causes is fuelling a surge in the exploitation of kids, with the opioid epidemic, sexual predators grooming children online and a spike in gang recruitment leading to a rise in the number of kids being impacted.

Younger kids are experimenting with drugs and coming into harm’s way via social media – which makes it far easier for predators to lure and target youth.

During a City of Colwood council meeting on Jan. 23, West Shore RCMP Supt. Todd Preston said the detachment had seen a marked increase in the number of child pornography incidents. Part of the impetus behind the proposed new $82-million West Shore detachment building was to make room for specialized staff to tackle the issue.

The ubiquity of mobile phones has also led to an increase in sexual violence, with easy access to pornography leading to harmful behaviours.

“We’ve had cases where youth will connect with social media, meet someone for the first time and have sex in the back of the car, and then the person tells them punching them in the face is part of the sexual act for them. This isn’t a one-off.”

A lot of the topics Golden discusses in schools is the importance of healthy relationships and consent, and the impacts of watching pornography at a young age.

READ MORE: Youth violence a growing regional concern for Greater Victoria area

Drugs and social media also led to a spike in violent incidents in downtown Victoria in the spring of 2022. VicPD frequently highlighted the number of youth heading downtown to party, which often led to using hard drugs and alcohol, according to Golden. This also led to random violence, mischief and assaults, according to Magee. Social media often connects these kids, who sometimes don’t know each other, but make plans to meet, Golden said in a previous interview with Black Press Media.

“Drugs and alcohol are involved, including access to harder drugs,” Golden said. “We’re seeing harder drugs now being considered as a party drug.”

Golden has been working in the field since 2014 and, in that short time, she’s seen a drastic shift in the age of youths being impacted.

“It used to be we were just in the high schools, now we’re going to the middle and elementary schools,” Golden said.

Though she’s trying to not to think about it, Golden said there could be wide-ranging impacts of her position not continuing to be funded.

“It’s always to fund with the future in mind but that’s really what’s needed,” she said. “If youth and families don’t get help, they often end up either in the mental health system or the justice system.”

~ with files from Rick Stiebel.

READ MORE: UPDATE: Youth suspects identified after West Shore RCMP seek tips in assault call

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