The Chronicle Herald ǀ Business

Helping kids succeed, Shift takes over N.W.T. youth centres
Alex Cooke
Published: Jan 23 at 5:49 p.m.
Updated: Jan 24 at 8:02 a.m.

Andrew Middleton, CEO and founder of Shift, a company that delivers programming to support youth experiencing social, emotional, and behavioral issues, is expanding after being selected by the Northwest Territories Health and Social Services Authority to lead residential youth-care facilities in Fort Smith, N.W.T. – ERIC WYNNE / Chronicle Herald
A Nova Scotia-based social service company is expanding to the Northwest Territories in the hopes that its distinctive programming will continue to pick up steam.

Shift — formerly Atlantic Youth — uses experiential learning and human services to help young people solve complex issues, according to company founder and CEO Andrew Middleton.

“We believe in creating conditions for kids to experience wins,” he said.

“Our approach is a foundational belief that kids have it in them to succeed. They just have often forgotten that, or have grown numb to the skills that they have.”

He said Shift works with classrooms, families, and communities to help youth and families develop and discover skills through activity-based programming and mentorship.

The privately held company, based in Head of St. Margarets Bay, was recently selected by the Northwest Territories Health and Social Services Authority to lead 24-7 youth care facilities in Fort Smith, near the Alberta border.

Middleton said Shift has been running residential group care programs in Nunavut since 2014, so continuing to grow northward is a “logical expansion.”

Still, he said, the company will spend the next few weeks developing policies and figuring out the best way to adapt to these facilities.

“Every facility’s a little bit different, every community’s a little bit different,” he said. So Shift is learning how things are and what the resources are: from building relationships with the Indigenous communities surrounding Fort Smith, to learning who the contacts are for the recreation department, to who is the community liaison.

“It’s a huge operational challenge, and a lot of adaptations have to be made from our current programs, just to ensure we’re responsive to the needs of the communities.”

Middleton said Shift currently has a major recruiting operation underway for child and youth practitioners, caregivers, therapists, and other roles, and the company is looking to fill 20 to 25 positions both in Nova Scotia and in Fort Smith.

The company is hiring people to work in the management office in Head of St. Margarets Bay, as well as permanent staff in the N.W.T.

He said Shift is also looking to hire people — not necessarily just in Nova Scotia — who would be willing to travel between their home and the N.W.T. to work in 10-week rotations.

“This work is often an intense job, so it’s a neat way to do what you love to do,” he said.

Shift will begin offering services at the Trailcross Youth Treatment Centre and the Polar Crescent Group Home within the next few weeks.

In an email, Northwest Territories Health and Social Services Authority spokesman David Maguire said the authority selected Shift as the new operator for these facilities through a successful request for proposal process.

“We are satisfied that they have the right experience and team to operate the facility, which provides support and services to youth experiencing social, emotional and behavioural issues in the N.W.T.,” Maguire wrote.

As an example of how Shift’s programming works, Middleton said the company has been called in to help with classrooms full of unco-operative students before to help them learn how to work better together.

He said staff would lay a tarp on the ground, get all the students to get on top of it, and then have them flip it over without anyone getting off, all while specialists while watched and took note of their interactions.

“As they struggle, you talk about it, and as they succeed, you talk about it. And you highlight the kid that’s quiet that came up with a solution, or the kid that’s loud that actually stopped talking for a minute,” he said.

“And you use the experiences they’ve created as a teachable moment to identify strengths that they have.”

Middleton added that with their flexible workforce, he hopes to see more growth in the company’s future.

“I think there are communities in need just by virtue of geography, and we’re well suited to move into those communities because we’re set up as a distance management operation,” he said.

“We’re perfectly suited now to work elsewhere.”

Middleton said the company has also bid on programs in Alberta and Saskatchewan before.

Shift has been in operation since 2011.