Both CHT and CHV allow for a limited number of excused overnight absences each month. In both locations these must be approved ahead of time. Nights away are earned by completing life skills (Toronto) or steps (Vancouver).
CHT: Youth are not allowed overnight passes during orientation period (unless there are extenuating circumstances). An overnight pass is considered an earned privilege rather than a right and can be revoked if a youth is not meeting the requirements of their plan. Youth earn the right to overnights by completing life skills. Youth must request their pass ahead of time and the decision is made by the Case Management Team.
In order to leave for their overnight the youth must have completed their chores and have a clean room (these are confirmed before the pass is issued). Youth must check-in with staff to ensure that the request is approved before leaving. They may be asked to complete a task before leaving such as cleaning their room, completing a chore or submitting their Trust Fund payment. Failure to do these tasks is considered an “unauthorized overnight” and may lead to suspension on return.
Consecutive nights are rarely allowed except during the holiday periods. A maximum of four overnight passes are allowed each month except in special circumstances.
The youth must return by curfew the next day or they will be considered AWOL. Youth who are AWOL may be suspended upon return and must discuss re-entry with the Team Leader.
Youth complete an Emergency Contact Form when they arrive in ROP (mandatory under 18, optional over 18). If a youth is absent for two nights without contact with staff or prior approval the emergency contact will be notified. If the youth is still deemed missing, the Toronto Police Services will be asked to issue a Missing Person report. After seven nights the individual could be automatically discharged.
CHV: No overnights are allowed during Step 1 (the first four weeks at least) because youth are settling in and it is deemed important for them to develop the routine of returning to the same location every night (and the resultant stability and security that comes with that). Two overnights are allowed during Step 2, three are allowed during Step 3 and four are allowed during Step 4. Five overnights are allowed during Step 5 and 6. The number of overnights is limited because a youth’s ability to participate in the program is dependent upon being present consistently. Youth who are frequently away from the program may not need the ROP anymore. More than five overnights during either of the last two Steps will prompt a discussion about whether or not it is time to move on.
It should be noted that during Steps 2 and 3 overnights must be pre-approved, while from Step 4 on, staff need only be notified. Permission is generally only granted for one night at a time and extended absences are discouraged. Absences beyond one night must be pre-approved, regardless of Step level.
If a youth is absent without approval for more than 72 hours it may be considered grounds for discharge and a missing person’s report will be filed if there is no contact.
Missing person's PSA from Covenant House Toronto
Homeless Hub Thoughts:
Having a strict overnight policy (while allowing for some flexibility) is a good way of developing structure and routine. It ensures that youth are present and accounted for and limits the likelihood that they return to old habits and behaviours.
Providing clear information about absences, discharge, missing persons’ reports is beneficial to the youth and staff and is geared at eliminating misunderstandings and confusion. Both CHT and CHV provide this information to the youth in their manual and during orientation.
Referring a youth to a shelter for going AWOL could backfire by creating an opportunity for a youth to spend the night outside of their housing again. As with the curfew policy, we do not recommend that any punishments include a discharge (even for a night) into homelessness. Youth must have security in their housing.
Both CHT and CHV allow for exceptions to the overnight limits in certain cases – i.e. attempted family reconciliation through a holiday or vacation with family members. This is a key component; as a youth gets stabilized they may wish to begin to explore connections with their family. Gradually spending more time with them, including overnights, is a good way of exploring whether moving home is a safe and viable option.
The fact that police will be contacted and a missing person’s report filed after an unexplained absence should create a sense of security for youth. It holds them accountable for their actions and shows that they have responsibilities along with privileges. It also emphasizes that their personal welfare is of concern.