No new services will be offered for at-risk youth in Coquitlam as a result of $2.24 million grant from the federal government.
Instead, the city decided the money would be best spent taking on a “leadership role” and coordinating between the local organizations already working with vulnerable youth, according to staff.
“Something I’ve seen from the research here, (are) the silos that we have among these great organizations that don’t know what the other people are doing,” said Nicole Cairns, Coquitlam’s community policing service coordinator.
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The city announced it had been successful in its application to the federal government’s Building Safer Communities Fund (BSCF) on Jan. 24. The funds are meant to be spent to support local government initiatives to prevent gun and gang violence by focusing on youth at risk of falling into crime.
Staff devised a three-year plan to best develop a prevention strategy through various consultations with local stakeholders.
Safer Schools Together, a regional organization specializing in youth intervention programs, identified gaps in Coquitlam’s services.
These include gaps in early intervention initiatives targeting middle-school aged youth, language and cultural barriers when providing counselling and mental health services, and a lack of evaluative frameworks across local organizations.
A key issue is “fragmentation” across the city’s support organizations, leaving response initiatives uncoordinated, according to the city.
“The coordination and communication between these organizations could be enhanced,” said Michelle Hunt, general manager of finance, lands and police services.
Staff report the number of challenges affecting at-risk youth have intensified with social, mental, and economic factors associated with the pandemic.
A two-pronged strategy would involve prevention and intervention initiatives.
It would involve two new hires: a youth outreach worker for SHARE Family & Community Services, who would be responsible for connecting at-risk youth to specific service providers in the community, and a temporary program coordinator to facilitate relationships between the city’s various social organizations.
They also want to form a Child & Family At-risk Support Table (CFAST) to help families requiring immediate intervention. It’s described as a “rapid triage model.”
CFAST would host bi-weekly meetings with the school district, front-line support agencies, and “justice professionals” to discuss youth that are determined to be at an elevated risk. The most appropriate organization for each scenario would mobilize to intervene.
Coun. Dennis Mardsen said he wants to see progress reports as a result of the program.
“It’s information, and there’s no takeaway. There’s no specific action. There’s not a specific progress report. I need to see progress reports on this,” Mardsen said. “I want to see that we’re truly instituting actionable items and actual connections.”
Following the three-year program, the city is slated to develop a gun and gang prevention strategy that will be self-sustaining once the federal funds dry up, according to the staff report.
Mardsen said they should try to push for continued funding. He said that developing metrics to show success would be a key factor in convincing the federal government to keep the program.
“(It) is typical with federal programs where they come out and say, ‘Here’s a great idea, here’s a little bit of money and run with it.’ And at the end of the four years, they look and say, ‘Well, we’re out,’” Mardsen said.
Carins said she is working on a sustainability plan, and the project should be absorbed into existing duties.
Coun. Brent Asmundson also said he wants staff to find what other funding opportunities there are available.
He said he fully supports continuing the program, but hiring extra social workers would “make a bit of a dent” in their budget.
“Sometimes it’s scary that we make some progress, and people trust the system, and then it sort of falls apart, which creates a distrust,” Asmundson said. He added he’d like to see less data gathering and more money “on the ground for the children.”
Coun. Trish Mandewo said after reviewing the stakeholders that are being engaged through the program, she said that one group is repeatedly missed – affluent immigrant youth.
She said this group is isolated and susceptible to being drawn into gang and drug culture, but are often missed because they are not the target demographic for these programs.