Secure Services: Using art and music to support trauma-informed care

Submitted on Thursday, 03/12/2020 - 5:33 pm

The first guiding principle of Hull’s Secure Services program is a stark reminder of how desperately the young people in the program need support and that their issues often stem from trauma inflicted on them by no fault of their own.

That principle reads: Contrary to popular opinion, the Secure Services program is not a jail. Our young people, in most cases, have experienced significant trauma, neglect, conflict, exploitation, addictions, abandonment, physical, sexual or emotional abuse in their young lives before coming here.

These are kids after all, doing their best to cope. They don’t come to Secure Services of their own accord but they are as deserving as other young people of understanding, services and supports. (That’s the second guiding principle.)

Secure Services provides a confined court-ordered and monitored service under the Child, Youth and Family Enhancement Act that assesses and stabilizes youth presenting at an imminent risk to themselves or others through self-harm and suicidality, violence, drug use, and
other high-risk behaviors.

There can be a misconception that it is ‘kid jail’ — that bad kids go there to be locked up and serve time, end of story. In reality, for most kids it’s the opportunity to begin to rewrite their story. Highly-trained youth counsellors and clinicians offer traumainformed care that is compassionate, consistent, non-judgmental and rooted in brain science. The space it is offered in was purposefully built and is integral to the therapies provided.

Those not familiar with Hull’s Secure Services building may feel like they were in the wrong place if they walked in. The light-filled foyer has a mural around the doors, painted in calming tones and incorporating the cheerful message, “Welcome to Secure Services.” And, yes, those doors are locked, but people may be surprised at what’s behind them.

Artwork adorns the walls, brightening the space. Some pieces have been created by staff, others donated by generous companies. A large, beautiful piece was painted and donated by Judge Todd LaRochelle, who often mandates kids to the program and who fully understands the positive difference being there can make for them.

One painting seems to speak directly to the young people in the program. When viewed full on it is a riotous, chaotic abstract of color. When viewed from a different angle, the word ‘HOPE’ is spelled out in clear view.

To engage kids in mindfulness programs and help them learn to self-regulate, a variety of therapeutic spaces are incorporated into the facility, including recreational space, a cultural room (for smudging, prayers or other practices) and quiet areas where they can go to calm down when feeling overwhelmed.

“Regulation is key,” explains Bryan Hume, Program Manager of Hull Services’ Safe Directions programs, in which Secure Services sits. “We are strategic around what we provide and when. Staff are mindful of the best time to connect with kids around certain concepts, whether that be
time in the music room or other therapies.”

The Neurosequential Model of Therapeutics has helped us to understand the healing and regulating aspects of art and music, and these are key components used to help heal and stabilize. The music room is a highlight of the program and hands-down favorite of the staff and kids.

The Magical Myles Music Room was created in memory of Myles Card, who had participated in other programs at Hull Services and for whom music played a big role in his treatment. Its aim is to do the same for others.


Magical Myles Music Room

“These kids have so many traumatic things they are dealing with,” says Hume. “We can bring them up here and they get away from everything that is not feeling great for them.”

“This gives us an avenue to connect with kids on a whole different level,” adds Francesca Acosta, Program Coordinator for Secure Services. “When kids bottle their emotions, it often comes out in anger. Giving them a creative outlet through music and art has a huge impact on kids who can’t express themselves in other ways.”

For the youth in Secure Services who may feel like everything has been stripped from them, it’s a connection to the outside world and a positive step in getting the help they need.

The Magical Myles Music Room

Myles Card had both a gift and a passion for music. From participating in choir and jazz and concert bands, from music lessons to teaching himself to play instruments, it was a huge part of his life.

While in programs at Hull Services, Myles spent a lot of time in the music room. “He used music to relax and cope,” says his mother, Christina Sackett. “It took a lot off his mind and shoulders. It was a complete refuge for him.”

The new music room in Hull’s Secure Services facility has been named to honour his memory. “Myles was a fantastic musician,” remembers Bryan Hume, Program Manager for Hull Services’ Safe Directions programs, in which Secure Services sits. “We wanted to create something special in memory of him and in appreciation of all Christina has done to raise funds for Hull Services.”

The mural in the room was painted by a friend of his mother’s, Cheryl Hoff, along with Hull Services’ Francesca Acosta and Carrie Fraser, and incorporates many of the things Myles liked — the yellow submarine is a replica of one he drew, the headphones painted on the wall the same as the ones he so often wore. Guitars hang on the wall and there’s a keyboard and recording equipment.

“Myles was a musical genius. He would write poems and create music to express what he couldn’t in other ways,” says Francesca Acosta, Program Coordinator for Secure Services. “Music and art inspired him. Now that is being shared with so many other kids.”