Everyday television, radio and the press remind us we’re falling behind when it comes to youth violence; after decades of launching campaigns on violence, drugs, poverty, family disarray and illiteracy, current research and front line experiences of social workers tells us we are in a “stall” stage.
As if that isn’t discouraging enough, we seem to be running out of ideas, energy and front-line workers necessary to achieve change.
Even the rhetoric that surrounds our approach has whitewashed the darker side of this problem. We read about “youth issues” or “youth concerns” where “conflict resolution” programs or “social service” programs are implemented and then often forgotten when the funding dries up.
Yet, under the veneer, you will find that youth are being ripped off when it comes to these programs. According to many front-line workers, programs will only work when backed by parental and community role models, something that is lacking today.
Politicians and the like place the blame on family, saying one reason for the increase in youth violence was parents have been delinquent themselves when it came to raising their children. They note that communities need to do more perhaps creating more “programs” or as many have done in response to the crisis suggesting the government implement and operate some form of National Security Youth Program.
“It is like placing a bandaid on a deep cut,” says Mark Branch, executive director of the Lasalle Boys and Girls Club.
“We build relationships with young people and then the money runs out,” he says. A Concordia Alumni, Branch has worked for more than 15 years with youth. He sees government funding as one part of the issue. “Governments provide money initially but not over a long term. When the time is up organizations scramble to find other sources of income or fold up the program.”
Much of the strategy is aimed at correcting youth problems that seem most pressing. This attacks one problem at a time, one individual at a time, in a desperate attempt to “stop the hemorrhaging.”
Nevertheless, the question remains of what to do.
“The answer might seem like a no-brainer,” says Danial Harcourt of the youth advocacy group Block House. “Young people are little learning machines. If they are raised on a diet of blood and gore, where killing is awarded with video points, and left unattended at home to watch the nightly news, or what has been termed “if it bleeds it leads” somewhere our children will be imprinted with what they witness.”
That is not to say that media is to blame – far from it.
Harcourt is almost subliminally hinting that children are missing parental governing, monitoring and they do not seem to care about community involvement especially when it comes to these “programs.”
Who could blame them? In 1999 in Canada there were over 3,000 government registered and funded “anti-crime” and “anti-violence” youth programs. In 2001, over 300 programs closed and this year 878 of those are on the chopping block.
“I just roll my eyes when I hear about another program,” says Joey Cloudesdale, 23, who found that just having a place to go was enough.
“I got enough programming at school and at home and sometimes I just wanted a place to hang out. Walking into another youth centre and being asked to be part of another conflict resolution program didn’t do it for me.”
Cloudesdale cannot tell you how many youth programs he was introduced to but would be the first to promote the benefits of youth centres. “It was a place where you could structure your life around your friends, school and family,” he says. “It was also a place where someone would listen and offer you advice.”
Youth centres were once called “drop in” centres, but today even the more established youth movements are being called “drop off” centres by parents and youth.
“Parents have to take responsibility for their children,” says Branch, who promotes the idea that along with long-term government funding, parents have to play a larger role.
“They [parents] are just happy that their children have a place to go. The parents expect us to be responsible for homework, discipline and keeping them busy.”
Youth workers such as Branch are talking here about the quality time you and I and Mom and Dad spend -or don’t spend- supporting and encouraging all young people in our communities.
“It isn’t all a problem about what to do with our kids,” says Branch.
“Youth have to be responsible for their own actions as well. We attempt to demonstrate responsible behavior of our youth members at the club and from that we hope it carries over into society.”
Saving society from youth violence has been such a mantra of mass-market sociology and psychology that one might think the adult community is a separate entity and has little to do with the mentoring of youth.
Harcourt does not rule out programs but says communities should take an A to Z approach.
“One of life’s most valuable lessons is that we’re all made better when we help others.”
“Programs offer children hands-on experiences that cultivate caring, respect and sharing with others. Programs also give schools and youth centres the opportunity to extend fundraising to the larger community, involving faculty and administration, school service organizations, community businesses and extended families.”