Early intervention the key for preventing youth crime

Photo courtesy Wallpaper Flare
SHARE:
Youth justice researchers and teachers say early intervention in schools will help divert children from offending, and many would welcome a return to a cut Police in Schools program. Eden Young reports.

Early intervention programs and support from schools could help students at risk of offending, experts say.

Others pushed for an urgent re-introduction of a Police in Schools program.

Professor Jenny Martin from Swinburne University of Technology said support should be targeted at this major transition stage into adolescence.

Schools have the ability to offer refuge and understanding, such as catering to unique individual needs through sensory rooms, resilience programs and meals for disadvantaged students, she said.

Genevieve Donohue, assistant principal at Alawa Primary School. Photo supplied.

Alawa Primary School assistant principal Genevieve Donohue said social and emotional early intervention programs, such as Mind Matters and Bounce Back, were important for students, and were implemented in her Northern Territory school.

“With early intervention, the students learn the skills and strategies required to manage themselves in social interaction and build healthy relationships to prevent incidents occurring,” Ms Donohue said.  

“This can all take place before incidents occur requiring rehabilitation.”

Alawa Primary School classifies youth at risk of offending as those with ongoing misdemeanours with minimal intent to modify behaviour, no remorse for their action and conscience.

The Andrews Government has invested $5.6 million in youth diversion and education re-engagement programs in Victoria, and Ms Donohue wants to see further reforms in the Northern Territory.

More focus is needed on quality, age appropriate programs to address social, behaviour and academic levels, she said. Access to youth groups, counselling and parent/guardian education will also help re-engage students in mainstream schools.

The Victorian government’s research paper Youth justice in Victoria said exposure to risk factors, such as mental health problems and drug and alcohol dependencies, further contributed to youth offending.

Youth justice experts Kimberly Kendziora and David Osher said young people followed a gradual progression toward delinquent and criminal behaviour.

In their book Fostering Resilience Among Youth in the Juvenile Justice System, they saidthis trend coincided with entering adolescence and the projection of antisocial behaviour.

The then Opposition education spokesman Tim Smith said youth violence was a major issue and pushed for the return of a Police in Schools program.

“It’s critical the education system gets back to basics and that also means building respect for our police and our institutions,” he said.

He said a former Police Schools Involvement Program was axed in 2005, despite positive reviews, and the fact Victoria was the only state without a similar program.

Sue Ryan, who is the learning coordinator for students with learning difficulties and identified disabilities at in Wangaratta Victoria, said she would love to see the program return.

“The presence of the police in the school, both in classroom activities and outside during recess, mixing with the students was wonderful,” she said.

“The police got to know countless young students throughout the town in a more friendly, supportive way. The students certainly were young enough to have and grow a stronger respect for the police.”

Former Chief Commissioner of Victoria Police Kel Glare, who is a volunteer with the Community Advocacy Alliance’s Police Veterans In School Program, said the program had a positive impact.

In an interview with Virginia Trioli on ABC radio in February, Mr Glare criticised the current Chief Commissioner Graham Ashton for his letter to Victorian schools, in which he advised them not to take part.

“Graham Ashton won’t put his police into schools in any sort of professionally delivered, proper program. What they do is ad hoc and it’s ineffective,” Mr Glare said.

“Victoria is the only state that doesn’t have a properly structured Police In Schools program.”

Crime Statistics Agency data for the year ending March 2019 showed youth offender incidents and rate per 100,000 Victorians was lower than it was 10 years ago.

However, Professor Martin said more needed to be done.

“There’s only so much that you can provide within the classroom … it’s a case of how much additional support can be provided from other sources,” she said.