We must act on at-risk youngsters

Young people at risk of antisocial behaviour are in danger of slipping through the safety net, an activist has warned.

Gina Spence, founder of the charity Gina Spence Productions, said that although there were up to 400 at-risk youngsters in the school system and they could be spotted as early as middle school, not enough was done to help them.

Ms Spence said: “My question is, ‘If we know that we have that amount of children, if we know who they are, and we have access to them through our schools, what is the plan?’

“Where’s the prevention plan that works for them before it escalates and they’re out of the system altogether?”

Ms Spence added: “You also find that a lot of young people are ageing out of foster care, so once they turn 18 their foster family is no long obligated to keep them.

“What do we expect children to do if everything they know to be normal and secure is no more?”

She warned that, without support, vulnerable youngsters could be lured into a vicious circle of gang involvement and violence and may get a criminal record.

Ms Spence, from Friswells Hill in Devonshire, said that the “number one challenge” for at-risk young people who had been in prison and rehabilitated themselves was finding a job.

She added: “Even though you’ve done your time, gone back to school and gotten a new skill, every time you fill out a job application you’re asked if you have a prison record and you’re less likely to be hired.

“How are you reintegrated into the community when the minute that your record shows up in an application you’re automatically branded? Where do people go?”

Ms Spence said the Government’s Hustle Truck programme, set up to provide work for young people, could be closed to many because they were unable to work in some areas because of who they are associated with.

She explained: “If you’re coming from a particular neighbourhood, whether you are involved in the antisocial behaviour or not, you are identified with someone who comes from that area.

“People don’t want to be associated with gangs but sometimes they are — it’s just by default.”

Ms Spence said: “I look at a place like 42nd Street, where everybody knew it had prostitution, drugs, but somebody made a decision that they were going to invest money, resources and time specifically to change that environment.

“If we want change we have to do something drastic. We’ve charted the data, we know what the numbers are, and we have to be willing to take a risk and jump just like everybody else.”

Ms Spence added: “The police also have a job to do as well and I think we need a stronger police presence too.

“Some people cannot relate to that because they don’t live in the environment, but until you’ve had the smell of gunpowder under your house, or somebody gets shot near your yard while your children are on their way to school, you wouldn’t know how bad the situation is.”

Ms Spence questioned why young people should take pride in their neighbourhoods if community leaders, families and business people did not make an effort.

She said: “Bermuda is a very unique place, because most people are connected to somebody and I believe that we’ve become very separated and distant from each other.

“Something drastic has happened and I think it’s time for us to be honest and willing to talk about how we got here. And once they tell you how they arrived there, let’s talk about it.”

Pastor Leroy Bean, leader of the Government’s Violence Reduction Team, said: “I continue to meet and hold discussions with school officials and individuals in communities affected by violence.

“Since the last shootings, I have personally visited the affected areas at least 14 times to speak with community members.

“I am constantly meeting with community stakeholders to provide the mechanisms that will enhance the lives of our youth and make our communities safer.”

View Original Story