Const. Jeremiah Stump didn’t plan on specializing in his profession so soon, but when Calgary Police Services (CPS) recognized a need for a dedicated team to engage aboriginal youth, Stump readily accepted the job.
The Youth at Risk Development Program (YARD) is a community-based initiative that supports youth involved in gangs and other criminal activity.
Teams are made up of a police officer and registered social worker who work with school liaisons, parents, community members and probation officers, who make referrals to YARD. The referrals are then assessed and assigned to a team.
Because of the high number of aboriginal youth (roughly 70 per cent) that are involved in criminal activity, YARD now has a team that concentrates solely on native youth at-risk.
Stump, who was raised on the Piikani First Nation, is partnered with youth justice social worker Wanda Hennigan, and they have spearheaded YARD’s Aboriginal Focused Group.
There is a level of comfort and familiarity when youth are offered support from someone of the same culture, which can lead to a positive outcome, Hennigan explained.
Hennigan said the goal is to make a connection with the youth and their families, in order to build a relationship and support the youth in better decision-making.
Whether they drop in at schools to touch base with students or pick them up from home and drive them to a job interview, Hennigan said every contact counts.
“When you’re talking to them about where they see their future, and they don’t have a future,” it takes time to get them to a place where they are talking about visions, goals and dreams, Hennigan said. “I think it’s hopeful knowing they can get to that point.”
As long as the youth have that support and consistent mentorship, their dreams stay alive, but with so many to attend to, some could fall through the cracks and lose their focus if the team is unable to to get to them quickly because they’re involved with other youth in crises.
Sometimes it takes months for youth to reach that moment when they finally confide in him about their situation and ask for help, Stump said.
“Some are forthcoming and honest and others hold back talking about family dynamics, conflict in the home, or if they are involved in a gang,” he said.
A unique feature of the Aboriginal Focused Group is that Stump and Hennigan offer a cultural perspective to the other YARD teams that have non-native members but have aboriginal youth in their caseload, he said.
Understanding how at-risk youth became vulnerable in the first place is detrimental to their work, Hennigan explained.
A lot of the youth have transitioned into the urban setting from a reserve and are looking for a sense of identity and sense of belonging, she said.
Some are forthcoming and honest and others hold back talking about family dynamics, conflict in the home, or if they are involved in a gang – Const. Jeremiah Stump
“That’s where they’re congregating, with like-minded aboriginal youth,” she said.
If you need assistance or support for yourself or someone you know please contact the Gang Help Line at 403-428-8191.