CALGARY — The federal government is poised to fund an anti-gang plan already working in Calgary as a possible template for other cities.
The Youth at Risk Development — or YARD — program identifies youth affiliated, involved or at risk of joining gangs and supports them and their families to avoid that realm.
And what began several years ago as a police-run pilot project has evolved, with the city now on board and the feds hinting at backing the innovative program.
Christopher McCluskey, National Crime Prevention Strategy spokesman, would not elaborate but said more information will be released soon.
“Details of a program funded through the National Crime Prevention Strategy’s Youth Gang Prevention Fund will be announced in the near future,” he said.
Already, the program has attracted interest from other communities, said Cathie Christenson, with the city’s Children and Youth Services and a YARD supervisor.
“They expressed interest and wanted to replicate it in their jurisdiction,” she said of recent conversations with Strathmore RCMP.
“Even though they are a smaller community they are dealing with the same issues.”
She said YARD began as a police-run project to do early identification and intervention of at-risk youth.
Initially, it was funded by the province but in 2007, the city partnered with police. Now there are about 40 youth in YARD which teams social workers and police to identify those at risk and offer intensive support to divert them from gang activity.
“This is really at the very, very early stages of when you would want to intervene, before they are even eligible for any status within the justice system,” Christenson said.
And YARD’s unique approach and focus on “positive youth development” as an antidote to getting involved in gang life seems to work, Christenson said.
“Some families, as soon as kids start getting into trouble, start taking away positive things — `If you start smoking pot, we are not going to let you play hockey any more,”’ she said.
“So, if a kid is a basketball whiz and getting into basketball camp will help build his positive attributes, we will help him get into camp.”