Murdered youth careworker inspires petition to improve safety
CALGARY — A petition calling on the provincial government to ensure safer working conditions has been started in honour of a Calgary youth careworker who was murdered on the job.
Erin Northey posted the petition online, days after 47-year-old Deborah Onwu was stabbed to death while working at a Wood’s Homes youth assisted living facility.
“There are not enough adequate policies and procedures in place to protect workers safety in those high risk environments,” said Northey.
She understands first-hand, from her experience as a youth careworker. She said she was working in a high-risk environment in 2016 and was assaulted by someone who was living in the program. She suffered a concussion, resulting in post-concussion syndrome as well as anxiety and PTSD.
“I got a second chance, but some don’t,” she said.
That includes 20-year-old Sharla Collier. In 2002, she went on a walk with a 14-year-old Lethbridge group home resident who had fetal alcohol spectrum disorder.
Ira Badger sexually assaulted and beat Collier to death with a branch.
In 2011, 41-year-old Valerie Wolski was strangled to death after getting assigned to spend the night, alone, with 25-year-old Terrence Saddleback. He had developmental disabilities and a long history of violence with caregivers.
CUPE, the union representing staff at Wood’s Homes, says Onwu was “dealing with a client alone” when she was killed. Brandon Jacob Spencer Newman, 18, is charged with second-degree murder.
“People are put in situations where they are single staffed,” said Northey.
“It’s absolutely unacceptable for somebody who is working with vulnerable populations who are experiencing severe mental health and complex addictions.”
Northey said she was also working alone when she was attacked. Her injuries left her unable to return to the job.
She said supports are also needed to transition people back to work after injuries.