[Thanks to Julia Greenbaum of CAMH Centre for Addiction & Mental Health] National Addictions Awareness Week: November 14-20, 2010

The Toronto Drug Treatment Court Program (TDTC) has made tremendous strides in keeping those with addiction and non-violent legal issues out of prison and in treatment programs where they can recover.

One area that has been a challenge for the TDTC has been the low rates of women applying to the program and engaging those who have applied. “Our program is rumoured to be ‘too hard’,” says Nick Doukas, Court Liaison at CAMH’s TDTC program. “The client feedback we received indicates that lack of housing is a factor that leads women to go back to abusive or unsupportive relationships.”

Recommendations from a 2009 evaluation highlighted the needs to increase safe housing for women and also increase our community partnerships.  “We responded by re- convening The Drug Treatment Court Women’s children’s sub committee, which is made up of community stake holders and partners,” explains Tanya Connors, Addiction Therapist in CAMH’s TDTC program.

TDTC formed a partnership with UHN’s Woman’s Own Withdrawal Management Centre, for women to access a safe place to stay when being released from jail and into the program.

The partnership offers a two-day pre-program workshop for women staying at Woman’s Own so they may begin treatment immediately upon release. “We also began to do more outreach at Vanier Women’s Detention Centre to inform women about the option to apply to TDTC,” adds Tanya. By forming new housing partnerships for women and community treatment facilities, the hope is to keep expanding the program.

Currently, some women from the program are being housed in the Salvation Army’s Harbour Light building located at Jarvis and Shuter Streets. The PUG Awarded building offers women two floors of 11-month housing in single, self-contained units.  TDTC women also benefit from on-site support from the Homestead, The Salvation Army’s women’s addiction service.

Paulette Walker, CAMH’s Peer Support Worker in the TDTC program and herself a graduate, points out the importance of receiving gender adapted treatment. “This is an important progress. Many of the women in the program know a lot of the men in the program from being on the streets. In a mixed group setting, this can present triggers for the women and make it difficult for them to succeed,” explains Paulette.

The goals that drive the women’s stream include earlier engagement in the screening process, outreach to women incarcerated, increasing the community’s knowledge about the TDTC program and collaboration with women-serving agencies, providing women-specific programming and highlighting the benefits and opportunities that the TDTC program can provide women.

The feedback from women in the program thus far has been very encouraging. Group therapy, feeling safe, the emphasis on self and enhanced coping skills are among the few that have been highlighted.