Since 1954, Craigwood Youth Services has provided care for adolescents and their families in Southwestern Ontario through various day treatment, community-based and residential programs.
Over the past 60 years, Craigwood has grown from its original campus on New Ontario Road near the village of Ailsa Craig to include two London locations for residential and community-based programs.
In 1954, the Nairn Mennonite Church donated a farm property near the village of Ailsa Craig to the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC). The purpose undertaken by the MCC was to create a program for rehabilitating delinquent boys by instructing them in the virtues of hard work through raising crops and livestock.
The first boys were admitted to The Ailsa Craig Boys’ Farm in 1955. Up to 18 boys lived in the original, three-storey farmhouse. Formal dedication took place on September 10th of that year.
A gymnasium was constructed behind the farmhouse in 1957. The following year, a school building and two staff houses were added.
In 1959, MCC began charging fees to the agencies that placed boys at the farm to offset the cost of its operation. As a result, the farm could move from its reliance on volunteer staff to paid, professionally trained counsellors and instructors. This allowed a shift in focus from custodial service toward a more treatment-oriented program.
Three cottages were constructed behind the “big house” in 1964. Costs were funded 50% by the Department of Social and Family Services, and the balance provided by the supporting Mennonite churches. Capacity was raised to 30 boys. A group home was also established in London to help boys to reintegrate into the community after discharge. At this time, the program officially changed its name from “Ailsa Craig Boys’ Farm” to “Craigwood.”
Craigwood was approached by United Community Services of London in 1968 to develop, staff and operate a new home in the city for troubled youth aged 16 to 20 years. The Hardy Geddes House opened its doors that November, operating independently with its own Board of Directors.
In 1971, Craigwood requested a transfer of administration from the Department of Social and Family Services to the Ministry of Health. Now operating under the Children’s Mental Health Centres Act, all fees were paid by the Ministry. Services were now equally available for private placements and wards of Children’s Aid Societies.
The new Ontario Association of Children’s Mental Health Centres was formed in 1979. Craigwood was among its original members. A new agreement brought Craigwood’s school program under the Middlesex County Board of Education.
Craigwood adopted the ‘Differential Treatment’ approach to youth services in 1980, individualizing programs to client needs. The new Bridgeway Program expanded our scope with specialized services to support non-custodial, emotionally disturbed youth. The next year, a Community Counselling Program was established in London to provide non-residential aftercare services to help clients transition to home life after their time in Ailsa Craig. The new Skyway program provided a second program for “difficult-to-serve” youth in Ailsa Craig.
On May 4th, 1983, Craigwood was incorporated as “Craigwood Youth Services” and the MCC (Ontario) deeded 58.55 acres of the original property, with the buildings, to the new organization.
1984 brought two major legislative changes. Ontario’s Child and Family Services Act and the federal Young Offender’s Act (YOA) replaced previous legislation governing Craigwood youth and services. Craigwood then opened its first program under the Young Offenders Act, the Midway Open Custody Unit.
An experimental Early Intervention Program was launched in 1988 to support clients at an early point in the development of problematic behaviour at home. The St. George Street Community Treatment Home was established in London in the same year to provide aftercare for clients transferred from Ailsa Craig campus.
Craigwood’s first Collective Agreement with the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) was signed in August, 1987.
Woodview, a Medium Secure unit, opened in Ailsa Craig to support up to 10 clients under YOA. Community Services initiated a successful trial of the new Community Alternative Action Program (CAAP), a community-based alternative to open custody.
In cooperation with Madame Vanier Children’s Services and St. Leonard’s Society, the Safer Community Program (SCP) was launched in 1997 with community-based Group Treatment, Day Treatment, and Multi-Systemic Therapy (MST) for youth between 12 and 16 years of age
Utilizing our large Ailsa Craig property and the expertise Craigwood staff, the 6-Rivers Wilderness Program was introduced as an adventure-based, outdoor therapeutic program, leading to our close partnerships with Thames Valley Conservation Authority and the Kinsmen Sugar Bush at Fanshawe Conservation Area.
Craigwood’s Head Office and Community Division moved to its current location at 520 Hamilton Road, London, Ontario in January, 1995.
Craigwood entered the new millennium as one of 30 agencies across Canada contracted by the federal government to bring the Internet to smaller non-profit organizations. This project equipped Craigwood with a foundation of technology expertise now connecting us with over 2000 non-profit organizations.
The Riverview program was opened to accommodate up to five high-risk males aged 14-16 years. In partnership with WAYS and Madame Vanier, a joint Crisis/Intake Team was created to simplify community access to the services of each agency. A crisis response for youth in the London area was also developed jointly with London Mental Health Services.
Craigwood’s Intensive Family Support (IFS) services was introduced to replace the Multi-Systemic Therapy program.
A residential placement was created in June for one client requiring an individualized program. With the purchase of a house in Nairn (June 2003), this grew to four residential spaces for youth requiring intensive care but unable to live in a group home setting.
Through this period, we began supporting clients beyond the SW Region with specialized care for ultra complex needs.In 2003, “Crossroads” was established to serve young people with serious emotional and behavioural issues concurrent with cognitive developmental delays.,The 12-bed residential program operated in London until 2007.
Midway also closed its Open Custody DOORS facility in 2008, and its beds were reallocated to expand capacity for non-custodial clients.
Our secure custody program at Woodview was designated for only female youth in 2009.
In 2011, Ontario’s new mental health and addictions strategy opened the door to staffing for new “Talk-in” clinics throughout the county. Our boys program at Riverview relocated into Midway, while Riverview re-opened to serve complex-needs girls. Craigwood partnered with WAYS, Vanier and CAS to deliver a new quick response service for youth, ages 12-15, and their families who are in a serious conflict situation.
A Community Policing Office established by the OPP on our Ailsa Craig campus in 2014 is thought to be the first such office located on a residential mental health site.
From 2012 to 2016, Craigwood developed and delivered a “brief counselling” service called ‘Talk-in Clinics’. In 2015, Craigwood received funding from MCYS for a full time Master’s level clinician to provide crisis and brief supports to youth and families living in rural Middlessex County. Currently Craigwood operates 10 walk-in sites across London and Middlesex County. Seven of those sites are co-operated with our sister agency Vanier Children Services.
In 2017, with the support of a London Community Foundation grant, Craigwood and 5 other community agencies began operating the first full age-range cross-sectoral walk-in clinic in the area. Two of these clinics are now in service.