Harm reduction is an approach that works to “meet people where they are at” when providing services. It usually refers to strategies aimed at reducing the risks and harmful effects associated with substance use and addictive behaviours. Harm reduction is often viewed negatively because of its link to substance use, but harm reduction approaches are used on a daily basis by the general population: hand washing, seat belts in cars, crosswalks and bike helmets.
In social services work, harm reduction approaches work to reduce harm, while complete abstinence may or may not be the goal. When there is a lack of desire or ability to stop using substances the main focus becomes reducing harm. For example, a needle exchange project helps eliminate the need for injection drug users to share needles.
The Canadian Centre for Substance Abuse has created five key principles for harm reduction. These are:
- Humane Values
- Focus on Harms
- Balancing Costs and Benefits
- Priority of Immediate Goals
Train for Trades works with extremely high-risk youth who may have histories in one or more of the following areas: homelessness, poverty, non-completion of high school, unemployment, substance use and criminal justice system involvement. By meeting youth where they are at and working with them through the provision of supports helps them succeed. While safety provisions mean a youth cannot work while under the influence, they will not be fired immediately. They will be sent home without pay and the Youth Supports Coordinator will discuss the situation with the individual. If a youth needs to attend substance abuse counselling they will be supported to do so. In some cases, a youth may be able to exit the program to attend a rehab facility and then return.
Similarly, youth who have histories with the criminal justice system are supported to work through their legal challenges. This could include time off for court appointments. Staff may advocate for youth or attend court with them to provide support.
In many youth programs, and certainly in many jobs, youth needing time off for appointments such as these would not only not be supported to attend, but may be fired for missing work. The harm reduction approach that T4T utilizes therefore helps keep youth employed while also allowing them to deal with their issues.