‘It will not be fine’: Winnipeg youth system needs revamp in light of increased crime, advocate says

A recent spate of violent crimes committed by Winnipeg youth — with the youngest suspect only 13 years old — is a sign that the entire system is broken and must be re-evaluated, a local advocate says.

Inner City Youth Alive’s Kent Dueck says there needs to be quicker intervention to help youth on a troubled path before it’s too late.

“If we want to have these rose-coloured glasses and think we can allow a violent teenager out on the streets, ‘just leave them there, it’ll be fine’. It will not be fine,” Dueck told 680 CJOB.

“We see it. One individual said, ‘Somebody has to stop me, I’m going to kill someone.’ If nobody stands up and says, ‘OK, we have to contain this kid…”

Youth crime is in the spotlight after a press conference by Winnipeg police chief Danny Smyth Thursday afternoon, who said his officers dealt with four robberies between Sunday night and Tuesday morning, all involving teens in the care of Child and Family Services (CFS).

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“We are aware of multiple youths that are involved in this kind of activity, committing serious crimes with serious weapons, and they’re all kind of affiliated to one another,” Smyth said Thursday.

The chief said while the specific recent incidents aren’t related, police are seeing more examples of group homes and foster homes not having enough resources to meet the needs of youth.

Click to play video: 'Winnipeg police tackle spate of violent youth crime'

Winnipeg police tackle spate of violent youth crime

According to Dueck, community involvement is key to helping youths’ lives stay positive.

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“Many of these kids don’t know any better and come from a background of trauma, so it’s up to the adults and the community around them to support them,” he said.

“It has to (involve) strengthening homes. So much of the pain for these youths, that they’re acting out of, comes in the context of relationships, so we have to be able to restore relationships.”

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Many of the kids involved, he said, don’t know how to self-regulate, and adults need to step in. There’s no amount of government money that can fix the problem on its own — and while some people do need to face harsh consequences for their actions, the entire system needs a revamp.

“To say this is all on the government, it’s impossible. There is no government that could completely handle the depth of where we are.”

Click to play video: 'Series of serious crimes committed by Winnipeg youths in care, police say'

Series of serious crimes committed by Winnipeg youths in care, police say

Also calling for a systemic transformation Friday: the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs (AMC) and the First Nations Family Advocate Office (FNFAO).

“Manitoba’s CFS system fails to provide the nurturing and guidance essential for our children’s well-being,” said AMC Grand Chief Cathy Merrick in a statement.

“We cannot decolonize or reform a system so deeply rooted in the residential school system. First Nations leadership must spearhead the creation of First Nations-driven systems and services. We understand what works best for our children and youth, and what we see now is the result of consistent government interference.”

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Merrick said the creation of a youth advisory group is underway and will consist of First Nations youth with experience in both the CFS and justice systems.

“We must envision a future where every First Nations child grows up in a safe, nurturing environment surrounded by their culture, language and traditions,” she said.

“This isn’t merely a policy matter; it’s a moral imperative that requires our collective action and unwavering commitment.”

Click to play video: 'Youth crime on the rise'

Youth crime on the rise

Voula Marinos, a professor of child and youth studies at Brock University in Ontario, says each young person needs to be treated as an individual case when they have run-ins with the law.

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“Holding them accountable for their offences means you need to look at the nature of the offence — how severe was it, what harm was caused, and what has been tried in the past. It always has to be proportionate to the harm caused currently, and looking back at what is the young person’s record.”

Marinos told 680 CJOB’s The Jim Toth Show that other jurisdictions around the world are exploring a kinship model, which prioritizes putting kids in homes with family members, when available — and regular foster care should only be explored if the kinship model isn’t an option.

“These are people like grandparents, aunts, uncles. friends that have a relationship with the family, that a young person can live with, hopefully temporarily,” she said.

“Child protection services can work with the family, and the goal is always to reunify kids with their families … hopefully, if it’s safe.”

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