Saturday, February 7, 2009

$5M pilot project to keep teens out of trouble addresses family values

Parents key in gang fight

Last Updated: 7th February 2009, 4:15am

If Toronto kids are coming home to beatings or watching their parents package cocaine on the kitchen table, there's no way a $5-million pilot project will keep them out of gangs, Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti says.

Toronto's Youth Gang Prevention Pilot Project, pushed ahead yesterday, has to tackle family values and make parents accountable before it will have any luck keeping teens from being lured into gangs, he said.

The city's community development and recreation committee approved the project that aims to help kids along the Jane-Finch, Jamestown-Rexdale and Weston-Mount Dennis communities.

Those three areas were targeted because city staff determined the youth crime risk index -- a number taking into account crime, economic factors and available support programs -- was highest in those northwest neighbourhoods.

The nearly $5-million project, the largest gang diversion initiative the city has undertaken, is funded with cash from the federal Youth Gang Prevention Fund.

"The root of the problem is family values, we still don't want to recognize that we need to dive into that," Mammoliti said. "(Poverty) obviously plays a role in this but I can point you to other areas of the world that have huge poverty problems with good family values and less crime that comes out of that."

The York West councillor pointed to a story he heard of a former gang member who tried to start a legitimate job only to be pushed back into the gang lifestyle by a mother who told him he wasn't earning enough money.

"We can keep throwing millions of dollars into communities but unless we want to learn about where the problem actually lies we're not going to get anywhere. I'm not convinced that all of this is going to resolve issues at hand in Jane and Finch and other pockets of the city.

"Gang members love to breed in poverty stricken areas, they love to breed at night, 3, 4 o'clock in the morning, and they love to breed when school's out in the summer."

Starting with 100 young adults between 13 and 24 this summer, the program will add an additional 100 in the following year and another 100 in its last year.

Who will deliver the project and how exactly they will engage the youth, isn't clear.

U of T criminologist Scot Wortley who will evaluate the process stressed a core component is seeing how the program can impact family life.

"One of the reasons we got funding is because we are including a family component," he said.

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