Gang prevention program shows signs of success

More than one year into its mandate, WrapED (Wraparound Edmonton) is showing success in helping vulnerable youth in Edmonton stay out of gangs and turn their lives around in the long term.

?"These are kids who are facing multiple barriers,” said Const. Val Hoglund, police liason for the WrapED project. "That means they don't just have one issue. There might be trouble with police, trouble at school, substance abuse and family violence all at once."

WrapED gives youth the opportunity to be involved in charting their own course to success. Each youth works with a youth worker to create their own support team that will help them move forward throughout their time in WrapED, and after they are no longer in the program. The youth themselves choose whom to invite to be on their support team, empowering them in the process and ensuring the team is made up of people they feel they can trust.

The team might include family members, probation officers, lawyers or social workers : anyone the youth believes would be a positive long-term support.

"A lot of these kids have already burned a lot of bridges," said Kyle Bullock, a WrapED youth worker with Native Counselling Services of Alberta (NCSA). "That's why it's so important that they have a say in who is on their support team. This team shows them that no matter what, some one is going to be there for them and they aren't always starting over when they get a new caseworker."??

One of Bullock's clients threatened a group home worker during a substance abuse relapse and, instead of waiting for the consequences he took the initiative to call the worker and apologize. He then invited that worker to his next support team meeting, to sincerely repair the relationship. ??

"We didn't tell him to do that," said Bullock. "He apologized on his own. There was a real attitude change there."??

"Every small step forward is hard-fought," he said. "For these youth, little successes are big successes." ??

The journey to success for these youth can be fraught with obstacles, which is why a consistent support team with a long-term view is invaluable. ??

“Using the wraparound approach gives the youth a sense of community they might not have had in the past. This shows the youth that people really do care for them,” said Sarah Conley, a WrapED youth worker with the Edmonton John Howard Society. “For the community, it gives them youth who care again. When they’re older, they can help change their communities for the better.”

WrapED is a collaboration between The Africa Centre, Edmonton John Howard Society, Edmonton Police Services, Native Counselling Services of Alberta, REACH Edmonton and YOUCAN Youth Services. It is partially funded by Public Safety Canada, Crime Prevention and launched October 1, 2013.

REACH Edmonton brought these diverse organizations together to collaborate, rather than each group submitting a proposal in competition with one another.?The programming focuses on vulnerable youth facing multiple barriers and is expected to serve up to 180 young people, over five years, primarily from Aboriginal and refugee communities. Participants are youth between the ages of 12 and 17 in Edmonton who are most at-risk of involvement with gangs.

"Loss of identity is a major driving factor for youth that pushes them to join gangs. There are vulnerable youth from mainstream, but there is a changing face in Edmonton and we do want to recognize that changing face," said Lindsay Daniller, director of community initiatives and development at REACH Edmonton. "So we are focused on embracing immigrant, refugee and aboriginal youth as part of the program. We really want to make sure that they are strengthened to be the best citizens they can be."?

There are currently 62 youth enrolled in the WrapEd program.