Growing Partnership in New Brunswick Engages Youth to Combat Youth Criminality

An agency in New Brunswick aims to combat youth criminality by establishing broad community partnerships and delivering targeted programs and supports to at-risk youth. Known as Partners for Youth, the agency was founded in 1994 by James Ross, a former Senator and noted philanthropist, whose vision of youth development through outdoor adventure continues to inspire the organization.

Initially, Partners for Youth focused solely on middle school groups and camping trips for youth in conflict with the law between the ages of 10 and 15. Today, the agency delivers a wide range of programs, many in collaboration with schools and community organizations. An investment from the Department of Justice Canada’s Youth Justice Fund in 2006 played a large role in the agency’s growth, according to John Sharpe, the current chief executive officer of Partners for Youth.

“Although our work with middle schools and camps was quite successful, we knew we could do much more to help youth in conflict with the law and other at-risk youth,” Sharpe says. “The Youth Justice Fund helped us stage a series of consultations to determine how we could get into the meat-and-potatoes of youth criminality: addressing root causes and contributing factors.”

Community Consultations

John Sharpe has devoted much of his life to at-risk youth; his career includes two decades working in residential youth care (including group homes). Upon starting at Partners for Youth, Sharpe organized and led consultation sessions - he describes them as summits - in Fredericton and in Charlotte County, which includes the communities of St. Stephen, St. Andrews, St. George and Grand Manan Island. Participants included young people, as well as representatives of local schools and youth centres, the RCMP and community groups, such as the Boys and Girls Club and the John Howard Society.

The discussions focused what services, programs and facilities currently existed for young people, and how everyone could work together for the benefit of at-risk youth. Topics included bail support and supervision, how to build links between the justice system and appropriate services for high-risk youth, and emerging youth justice issues.

“A large part of New Brunswick is rural and has many small, isolated communities,” says John Sharpe. “People in one town often don’t know what services are available 50 or 70 kilometres away. So we got all of the stakeholders together and created an action plan.”

The action plan sparked a great deal of collaboration between various organizations and the number of programs for youth quickly increased. Today, Partners for Youth operates programs focused on employment, violence prevention, homelessness, financial literacy and drug-abuse prevention, along with healthy activities such as sailing and recreational sports.

Among the first of the newer offerings was a leadership program based on the Partners for Youth outdoor camps. Launched in 2007, the program has run continually since then. It involves a seven-to-ten day outdoor-education trip in a remote part of the province for up to 10 youth and four support staff. The trips run up to four times per year; participants hike, canoe, rock-climb and observe wildlife. Counsellors work with youth in small groups to help them develop self-esteem, positive relationships and coping skills. According to John Sharpe, the program is founded on the same adventure-based philosophy and therapeutics as the original outdoor camps.

“The outdoor camps are essentially for middle-school children - ages 11 to 14,” he says. “And while the camps were successful, we could see that many of the participants were still at risk and that we should expand the program. Now Partners for Youth can be part of someone’s life for up to nine years.”

Helping At-risk Youth

The organization’s programs are designed for youth who are unlikely to join other organized groups for various reasons. Many have come into conflict with the law and most have trouble fitting in with peers, maintaining healthy relationships and taking responsibility for their actions. Many shun participation and commitment, and are subject to peer pressure.

“The camps teach the kids the skills they need to look after themselves,” says Rich Woolin, Partners for Youth’s current outreach director and former camp director. Woolin studied outdoor education in his native England and taught the subject at New Brunswick Community College.

“On a camping trip, the kids learn to rely on themselves,” Woolin says. “They also work in groups to plan and prepare meals, and set up and take down campsites. Along the way, they learn how to get along with others.”

Adventure-based Learning

The summer camps are quite popular: the organization hosts a total of about 150 youth each summer and stages up to 15 camps a year. Partners for Youth also delivers adventure-based programs during the school year, on school premises. Currently, 22 middle schools and more than 250 youth participate in the year-round program directly at their school.

Debbie Lord recognizes the importance of ensuring that youth have access to healthy activities, such as those offered by Partners for Youth. Two of her four children were Partners for Youth campers; Lord now works at St. Andrews Community Youth Centre. The Centre features gaming systems, a gym, art studio and kitchen, and offers a mix of formal and informal programming.

“Every single town should have something like this,” Lord says. “The Centre and Partners for Youth introduce kids to some of what life has to offer. It helps them stay out of trouble.”

Partners for Youth continues to develop and introduce new programs, such as a community agricultural learning centre and a network for youth who are, or have been, in provincial care. Financial support comes from a growing number of private donors, foundations and corporations, along with federal and provincial governments

“We’re determined to help as many youth as possible,” says John Sharpe. “That’s what communities are all about.”

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