30 Aug. 2013

Safe Places

14 weeks ago now, something terrible happened in our community.  A young woman was stabbed by another young woman and it made national headlines.

In the early hours of the morning after that incident, the Youth Space opened up to manage what was fast becoming a crisis situation for local young people as social media spread the word about what had happened.  Our staff gave up their Mother’s Day plans and our mothers forgave us (big thanks to the mum’s of all the Youth Space’s staff), and we went into a very careful process of supporting the police in their duties, debriefing concerned parents, fielding criticism about not being open 24/7, and most importantly supporting dozens of young people who couldn’t understand what had happened or why.  The incident shattered friendship groups, set family against family and had a lot of repercussions for many people.

In that first week following the stabbing, the Youth Space set out to discover the issues behind the incident and everything tracked back to the supply of alcohol to minors.  There were other issues behind the stabbing, but it all escalated because people were drunk.

We went to try and find some financial support to establish a program to create an intervention, but weren’t too successful there.  In today’s economy everyone is doing it hard and not many people were able to spare money to fund what was never going to be a cheap program – which we understood and appreciated.  So, rather than give up, we decided to do it on the fly.

In 2010 we ran something similar of a Friday night (The Hope Project) to deal with incidents of violence.  Hope was very successful, so our CEO rewrote it and updated it, our Management Committee organised free food through the awesome Marjax Meats in Rothwell and we spoke with the police about how we could not afford to be open both Friday nights and Saturday nights, and asked if they were able to help in some way.  The Child Protection and Investigation Unit offered to increase patrols for Saturday nights so that between us both high risk nights had some sort of presence aimed at protecting local young people.  Then, our remarkable staff team volunteered to give up their private time to help.

We don’t want to diminish that last point so forgive us if we explain it a bit.

Every member of our team is a highly trained professional with many years of experience, and like everyone else they deserve to be paid for the work they do.  Youth Work is probably the single most misunderstood profession in the world.  It’s not fun and games with teenagers, it’s blood sweat and tears and it just simply isn’t safe.  Frighteningly, some young people carry a weapon on them these days, not because they want to hurt people but because they don’t feel safe.  Our job at the Youth Space is to provide a drop in centre and programs for young people who have drug and alcohol issues, mental health issues and other serious life issues, and on average we see about 100 young people a day and anyone of them could be carrying a weapon.  We have very thorough processes in place to protect people in the event a weapon is discovered or pulled on staff or another young person, but no matter how many precautions you take, and no matter how good your processes are (and ours have worked every time we’ve had an incident), you can’t guarantee something won’t happen.  You have to be on alert every moment of the day and that can be pretty stressful.  But as well as the safety issue, every member of our team has someone in their life who depends on them or misses them when they’re not at home.  So it’s a big deal to work a full week, be on call 24/7 and then volunteer even more time to protect and support young people.  We just wanted to acknowledge that.

After we looked at everything, we determined we could manage to run the program for 12 weeks based on the occasional donations we receive.  What we didn’t count on was how popular the project would be, and that it might go longer than 12 weeks!  That popularity means we’ve decided to extend the Safe Places Project through to December.

What is Safe Places?  It’s simple:  The Youth Space opens at its normal time of 8:30 on Friday morning, and we stay open all through the day and night until late so young people can have a safe place to come if they’re in trouble, or if they just want to hang out with friends.  Qualified Youth Workers are on hand to provide assistance where needed, and to supervise the Skate Park, our surrounding grounds, and the activities happening inside our facility.

We provide music sessions, internet access, XBox games, boardgames, evening basketball, table tennis, and we pump music through the Youth Space and hang out to make sure everyone is okay.  The key to the projects success is the relationships we’ve built with local young people.  If we didn’t have good relationships with them, they’d never listen to us because we’re not the police and we don’t have any authority to order them to do anything.  It probably goes without saying, but we are always grateful our young people choose to respect us and the work we do to support them.

As well as opening up our space and keeping an eye on the surrounding areas, we also put on a feed two times throughout the night.  Food is important, because there’s a lot of research out there that indicates the effects of alcohol and drugs can be mitigated by making sure people have something in their stomachs.

We use the time we’re with young people to challenge their choices, remind them of where they can go if they get into trouble, and to have the odd “deep and meaningful” so we can learn more about them and what is going on in their lives and why so many of them turn to alcohol and drugs to deal with their issues.

It’s been pretty enlightening.

So far, we’ve had 661 contacts.  That means 661 young people have made use of our space of a Friday night in the last 13 weeks (the current data tracking we’ve conducted has only been for 13 of the 14 weeks we’ve now been running the program).

Of those 661, 562 were under 18.  14 were under 10.  Of those 14, 9 presented at our service with a parent accompanying them.  5 presented at our service after dark without a parent or guardian.

Of the 661, 279 were young women under 18.  382 were young men of varying ages.  Of the 661 we encountered, 247 were already intoxicated and 98 were under the influence of a narcotic.  Of the 345 under the influence of something, 91 allowed us to talk to them about why they were getting high or drunk and all of them advised us they obtained the alcohol or drug from an adult.

The rules of the program are don’t bring alcohol anywhere near the Youth Space or Skate Park, and in the 13 weeks we have only had to ask 3 people to remove alcohol from the area.  1 was a young person, 2 were adults.

For almost every young person, the benefit of the program was that they felt safe again.  Having the Youth Space open and staff on site meant there was somewhere to go, something to do and someone to help them if stuff went bad.

Some quotes from our young people about the program include:

“I reckon it is a good place for us ‘nightimers’ (term used to describe under age young people who like to be out of an evening) who go out, because it gives us something to do.  It’s fun to be there because you get to see all of your friends.  We love Amy, Ben, and Jarryd.  It’s like family.  It’s just fun, and there’s always something to do there.”

“I want it to stay open because it’s somewhere we can come, chill, eat food and feel safe.  The guys at the Youth Space make it a fun place to be.”

“I like hanging out with my best friends, there’s food and I get to chill out, play music, sing and use the games and the computer and there’s no fights.”

If you want more information about the Safe Places Project, please call 3283 8769 and ask to speak with Jarryd, our CEO.  Safe Places is based on the HOPE Project he designed in 2010 to deal with issues of violence, homelessness and drug and alcohol use.

The Youth Space gives a very special thanks to Marjax Meats for providing us with food to feed our kids, and we offer a huge thank you to Ben, Amy and Jarryd who have consistently manned the project week after week, and to Allen, Tom, Monique and Dylan who have supported the program when we’ve needed extra staff.

We also thank the community of Redcliffe, who continue to support us with encouragement and donations so we can keep doing our work.  With the funding cuts that happened last year we would have closed without the support of our community.  You’re why we fight so hard every day to keep the doors open and to look after those young people no one else can.

Finally, thanks to the Child Protection and Investigation Unit and the uniformed police officers based in Redcliffe.  All of you, without exception, have been amazing to work with.

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