Despite a community’s best efforts, some children take the wrong path. Port Alberni’s serious juvenile crime rate, according to the health area profile, is more than twice as high as the rate in B.C.—8.8 per 1,000 population aged 12 to 17 as compared to 4.2 in B.C. and 2.9 in VIHA.
Port Alberni RCMP Cpl. Jen Allan said police are “one partner at the table” when it comes to supporting the overall health of youth here.
RCMP Youth officer Const. Shelly Schedewitz added when a youth comes in contact with police, recommendations are often made for them to attend drug and/or alcohol counselling sessions, if deemed appropriate.
In many juvenile cases, alternative justice measures are employed to prevent teens from entering a judicial punishment system that can enforce, instead of ameliorate, negative behaviours.
But local police want to do more.
Schedewitz’s role has expanded this year from school liaison to youth officer, where not only does she deal with students in school but she reaches out even more to high risk youth—those who may not attend school regularly and are at risk of falling through the cracks.
Schedewitz is part of a Youth Action Committee, comprising various agencies that work with youth, that meets monthly to tackle ongoing situations with youth in the community.
“The Youth Action Committee was created to work with partners within the community to ensure we can help the youth help themselves,” Schedewitz said.
“Our team approach is prevention, intervention and our last resort is enforcement.”
It’s in everyone’s best interest.
Allan explained one problem youth can commit many crimes, taking up policing time, creating numerous victims and skewing crime numbers.
At the other end of the spectrum are teens who attempt to harm themselves. The B.C. Adolescent Health Survey conducted every five years by the McCreary Centre Society found that for the first time since 1992, the number of B.C. students surveyed who seriously considered suicide dropped to 12 per cent from 16 per cent in 2008, while the number who attempted suicide dropped to five per cent from seven per cent.
More than 29,000 B.C. public school students in Grades 7-12 completed the survey between February and June 2008. Many are surprised how many young people grapple with suicide-related thoughts and behaviours.
“This is a reflection of the need of the entire community to develop a social network where people feel connected and have someone to turn to when they feel challenged.” Hasselback said.
Perhaps the most important thing the McCreary Centre society concluded is that “building protective factors such as family, school and cultural connectedness can assist even the most vulnerable youth to overcome negative experiences, can assist young people to make healthier choices and can contribute to more positive health outcomes for all youth in B.C.”
Next week: Supporting those who struggle with mental, physical and emotional challenges.