A new provincial strategy is intended to deal with the complex issues that lead young Manitobans into a life of crime or unhealthy situations, said Manitoba Youth Minister Kevin Chief.
“Safer communities is all about a shared responsibility to do the different things that keep it safer,” Chief said.
Chief and his department staff met with 1,500 people during more than 30 meetings, where the consultations revealed issues Manitoba’s regions share, as well as localized situations that need a solution.
“We came up with a five-point plan based on the things that we heard,” Chief said. “You heard a lot around early childhood development and the importance of supporting children even before they go to school. The idea of supporting pregnant mothers and making sure we are doing everything we can around literacy and numeracy so that when every child when they go to school has a fair start. That ties into schools and how we work with that.”
The five points in the plan are: strengthening early years and schools, creating youth opportunities, supporting recreation and healthy communities, investing in mental health and addictions treatment, and better law enforcement combined with rehabilitating criminals.
“I think it’s encouraging to see them addressing youth and trying to keep them engaged in activities,” said Reg Helwer, the Progressive Conservative justice critic and Brandon West MLA. “It’s one of the reasons I have always been supportive of the YMCA programs and the work that they do with kids who are at risk. I think something the government is doing along those lines should have a positive payback but when crimes do occur, there has to be repercussions or … they will continue to get into trouble.”
Chief, a longtime advocate for inner-city youth issues, said that early childhood education and supports can be major preventative measures that keep youth out of crime and gangs, but that doesn’t mean those who have fallen into the trap of criminal activity should be ignored.
“We know that programs that work have good supervision, build skills and has a strong structure component,” Chief said. “We know when we make these investments that the people who apply for them have these three ‘S’s in their programming, so we know it’s going to be effective. Because of the connections we have with non-profit, community-based organizations, we have a sense of what the level of effectiveness is and where they are at.”
Helwer said whether the strategy is ultimately successful will depend on how the plan is laid out and implemented. However, he noted that what he has seen so far should be a positive influence.
“The things we see groups doing, like the YMCA, there are positive atmospheres that engage youth and we want to make sure they are able to continue doing what they do,” Helwer said. “Sports teams and events like that are a great opportunity to engage youth but we have to realize each of these people are individuals.”
Helwer added that understanding those individual circumstances is key to dealing with the issues that led them to make the choice to be involved in gangs or criminal activities.
Chief said while it’s harder to get people out of gangs once they get in, there are ways to get that youth back into more positive surroundings.
“Why are they joining a gang? They are looking for a sense of belonging,” Chief said. “That sense of belonging can be a positive or something quite negative. … You can go into facilities where young people are locked up and all of them have skills and talents. We just have to give them the structure to use those talents.”
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition October 20, 2012