Friday, September 18, 2009

REACH report- thoughts

On Wednesday, September 16, I attended the release of the REACH report at City Hall. (reachreport.ca) Drafted by the Edmonton Taskforce on Community Safety, it represents a year's worth of hard work and dedicated energy to find solutions to building a safer Edmonton for all. It puts forward nine recommendations, inspired by the work of Dr. Irvin Waller (Less Law, More Order- a great read, BTW) and in-depth consultation with many agencies, groups and citizens of Edmonton. I won't go into all of the recommendations, but instead I'd like to focus on the ones that particularly relate to my area of interest: education.

It's not hard to find the connections!

(page 11) Recommendation 1: A new model of family and community safety focusing on schools as hubs.
"Build on and nuture an integrated community-wide partnership that positions schools as key access points, or hubs, for high-needs families, children and youth. Develop and implement a coordinated drop-in program during the critical after school hours for at-risk school aged children and youth in Edmonton."

Fantastic! I campaigned on this very issue and would love nothing more than to see schools serve the needs of the whole child and provide a 'one-stop shopping' point for families in need. For schools to realize their full potential as the "grand equalizers" in a democracy, we must find ways to work together and meet the needs. We can't do it alone and I delight in the idea of partnering with the city and others to make it happen.

p. 21: 88% of respondents to the Taskforce Survey said they agree with investing in child education and development. 91% of respondents agree with addresssing drug and alcohol addictions. 83% agree with investing in parenting skills. 85% agree with addressing mental health issues.

All of these issues are, in my opinion, tied to schools. Mental health issues, drug and alcohol addictions first manifest in school-aged children. Parenting skills could be taught after-hours in schools and of course, education and child development is our mandate.

The story of Mike (p.27) spoke to the work we need to do to reach out to kids who feel marginalized. Lost in a large high school, he fell in with a rough crowd: "I needed to belong to something." Mike was expelled from school, ended up staying at the Youth Emergency Shelter and was eventually charged with a crime and sent to the Edmonton Young Offenders Centre. His story shows what can happen when youth feel they have no options. Luckily, he found his way to a more constructive life and shares what might have made the difference: "If my mom had known there was someone she could talk to, besides the cops. But she didn't know how to deal with me, where to go or what to do."

Schools are a logical place to provide parenting support. When kids are struggling, parents need support to help them find the path again. Being expelled removes both the student and the family from the circle of help. How can we ensure that kids like Mike don't fall through the cracks?

Recommendation 1 (schools as hubs) provides possible answers on p. 42 of the report:
"The hub will act as a navigator to connect with families and provide a spectrum of services in their community before a crisis point is reached."

I love the last six words of this sentence: before a crisis point is reached. YES! Why do we wait until there is a crisis to intervene? In schools in Edmonton, there are children at risk- teachers know who they are, interested community members know who they are, the custodian knows who they are, the lunch supervisors know who they are... but everyone feels powerless to intervene. We need to dare to care, to intervene, to offer assistance before the "incident." To do that, we need to equip people with the knowledge, the connections with community support services and the TIME to feel capable of helping. A coordinator is needed to connect the dots and empower a network of caring. I would love to see a web of support around each school, so finely woven that no child could slip through.

Recommendation 3- Community Coordination on Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder
p. 48- "Facilitate the delivery of life skills programs for young females (ages 11-15) at risk of pregnancy and FASD. ..It is estimated that $1.5 million is spent on each FASD child in his or her lifetime. Over 60% of these children will not complete school."

Clearly, education is critical to prevent the next wave of children born with this tragic and preventable disorder.

I applaud the work of the Taskforce and heartily endorse the initiatives outlined. By focusing on prevention rather than punishment, we can move our society to a more compassionate, thoughtful and financially-sustainable place. We can move Edmonton to the forefront of crime-prevention innovation and community cohesion. Now, let's get to work on implementation!!!

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