A new collaboration among groups that deal with youths may be opening other avenues to help them.
Nineteen youth support groups, including school social workers, RCMP and probation workers identified trends in their activities and gaps in the supports youths are receiving during the first meeting of the new Ponoka Youth Coalition, held Wednesday, Oct. 21 and hosted by Beth Reitz, executive director for the Ponoka Youth Centre.
Four major points of service insufficiency emerged from the discussion:
• Low income support;
• Anxiety and mental health;
• Youth crime;
• Under-resourced services.
Accompanying the low income problem is a lack of proper nutrition affecting the kids. Schools are now finding out that breakfast is becoming an important part of the day for them to be able to have a positive learning day.
Reitz said she was not surprised with most of the issues that were presented with the exception of how quickly families have been affected by the downturn in the economy. Social and economic issues on the family front are creating extra stresses on students not normally seen.
Schools are having to find unique ways to get kids involved in sports as they cannot afford the extra fees to pay for those activities, which is straining budgets, and yet some administrators are finding that keeping them in those sports keeps them safe.
Reitz said that programming at the youth centre is at its maximum, especially on the Fridays when students are out of school in the Wolf Creek School Division. Rather than leave it at that, Reitz is looking at ways of reevaluating the services offered at the youth centre to ensure kids have opportunities.
Adding to the concern of financial burdens, there are increasing issues of anxiety and mental health concerns in children. One other trend that stakeholders are finding is a disconnect with students and their increased use of social media on personal devices.
Despite this challenge, teachers are also finding that they are self-correcting and calling out their fellow students on social media.
Youth crime was another issue touched on. Those in charge are having to deal with serious crimes such as heavy drug use, violence, incest and murder. These acts “are not the simple fights between two kids anymore,” according to the participants at the meeting. The severity of the crimes has reportedly increased over the years.
And on the fourth issue identified as one of the key problems is that staff dealing with youth issues are overworked. Resources are tapped out and at some point these employees are finding they have to turn kids away.
Reitz’s hope is to give stakeholders a chance to meet and network and find ways to help the kids and provide some continuation of services. “I wanted all the youth serving agencies to know what was available to them.”
One recommendation that came out of the meeting was to invite municipal and provincial leaders to the coalition. Reitz added that if groups would like to get involved, she could be contacted at the youth centre.