Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Working for a brighter future for our youth

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Our record-breaking frigid winter inspired a lot of passion in Winnipeggers.

Regardless of your socio-economic status or cultural background, everyone was impacted and it appeared, everyone's voice was raised in protest.

That response caused me to wonder whether we could muster the same degree of visceral community response to the myriad social issues that plague our city: poverty; child neglect and abuse; homelessness; and insufficient parenting, to name just a few.

From a police perspective, crime typically drops when the temperature plummets. Unfortunately, social problems don't subside with cold temperatures.

Today, children and youth continue to be neglected and abused at an alarming rate in our city. Did you know there are over 9,500 children under the age of 18 in care in Manitoba?

Each year, hundreds turn 18 while in the care of Child and Family Services. What happens when these youth hit the magic age of 18? Studies show many of these young adults become predators or victims, or succumb to the lure of gangs, drugs and life-altering mental and medical trauma.

There are some in society who believe we should all mind our own business and leave people to fend for themselves. If you believed that, you wouldn't have come together around snow clearing and garbage removal. Children and youth are far more important than snow and garbage.

As a community, will we raise our voices and join those on the front lines working to protect children and youth?

If you know a child is living in sub-standard conditions, if you know a child is being neglected or abused, if you know a parent or caregiver is employing questionable measures, report it. Any time we intervene and support a youth who is struggling, we have an opportunity to change a life for the better. Everyone can play a part in making communities safer and healthier for children and youth.

Thankfully, many people are dedicated to this cause. Jay Rodgers, CEO of the General Child and Family Services Authority, is one of them. I recently had the opportunity to meet with Jay and learn about the General Authority's two-year pilot project called Building Futures.

Jay and his team are taking a visionary, compassionate and frankly practical and responsible approach to caring for children and youth. By providing ongoing assistance to children who are aging out of the child-welfare system because they have reached that magical 18 years, he ensures they continue to develop and acquire necessary life skills to guide them on the path to a healthy future.

Jay believes in helping youth currently and formerly in care to acquire permanency in family relationships, to open avenues to post-secondary education and simply to give them hope for their future. Isn't that what any caring parent wants for their children?

He ensures they have the potential for a future free of substance abuse, crime and social dysfunction.

In my 27-year police career, I've often seen this significant gap in our social safety network. By failing to help young people make this critical transition as they age out of the child-welfare system, we diminish their potential and in too many cases cause them to become a burden to society. Many end up homeless, relying on shelters, government and the goodwill of strangers.

Let's invest more in the lives of children and youth and create a brighter future for us all. Jay Rodgers and the GA are on the right track. I hope others will follow.

We must raise our voices and support measures that work to protect children and youth, thereby creating a culture of safety across communities.

 

Devon Clunis is Winnipeg's police chief.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 1, 2014 B3

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