COLUMN: Province takes small first step

Funds for Surrey Wraparound program are good start, but more must be done to combat crime in the city.

Premier Christy Clark has been facing criticism for not speaking out on the ongoing violence in Surrey, involving low-level drug dealers.

On Tuesday, Clark took her critics on. She came to Surrey City Hall to meet with Mayor Linda Hepner, and then staged an elaborate announcement with Hepner, the RCMP and the school district to announce a number of initiatives to try to deal with the problem.

The centrepiece is another $270,000 for the Surrey Wraparound Program, known as Wrap. This program is delivered through the Surrey School District and involves school staff, the RCMP, parents and youth working together in a fairly intense manner. The goal is to positively attach youth to school, the community and their homes.

While the additional funds are a great step forward, the reality is that the Wrap program helps very few young people at one time. It currently serves 60 youth, and the additional funding (which is a one-time grant) will allow it to serve 15 to 20 more — and reduce the waiting list.

Given the thousands of young people in Surrey schools, and the significant number who have trouble dealing with a variety of situations, particularly during adolescence, it is a program that will never be able to meet potential demands.

On Monday, Surrey-Green Timbers MLA Sue Hammell noted in the provincial legislature that Surrey has just 10 school liaison officers, while Vancouver, a smaller school district, has 16.

Surrey RCMP have said they will boost the number of school liaison officers when a promised 130 additional officers arrive. That’s a positive step, and the sooner it happens, the better.

Police in schools is a critical step towards dealing with the challenges faced by many young people. As noted at last week’s public meeting in Newton, many parents are not aware of all their children are up to.

Social media and increased mobility have a lot to do with this. Parents rarely, if ever, know all of the people their children are in touch with via social media. They cannot keep up with all the connections they make through school.

As several speakers noted last week, young people do spend time with their families, but it often pales in comparison with the time they spend at school or outside the home.

If there are more school liaison officers in Surrey schools, those police officers will be able to observe up close what is going on there. They will, in some cases, be able to get in touch with families and let them know more about what their children are doing.

Parents remain the first line of defence in helping keep young people away from the destructive world of drug dealing. They know their children best, and the often have plenty of other family members who can play a significant role in helping turn things around.

However, parents need help – from police, from the school system and from friends of their children who also become concerned about changes in behaviour.

Clark also announced that $318,000 in grants from the civil forfeiture program will go towards crime prevention in Surrey this year. While this is significant, it represents the value of less than one home that has been seized and sold under the program. Her announcement of an integrated network of social, medical and justice service providers, through the Surrey Criminal Justice Task Force, is also a positive step forward.

However, one of the best moves to make with young people involved with the justice system, especially first-time offenders, is to have them go through the court process quickly, while the offence is still fresh in their minds.

Given the horrendous delays in securing court dates in Surrey, that will be a difficult thing to do.

The province’s attention to the challenge is welcome. Unfortunately, it is merely a first step.

Frank Bucholtz writes Thursdays for the Peace Arch News. He is the editor of the Langley Times.

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