Council pitting youth against each other

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It is wrong to criticize one group of people at the expense of another, but in effect, that’s what the city is doing with its ongoing support of one youth group while withholding grant funding from another, all the while cloaked in the security of the unelected community service advisory board.

It emerged at council Monday, Dec. 17 that a reason the Youth Community Centre no longer qualifies for Family and Community Support Service funding is that its inclination to help youth deemed to be at-risk puts it afoul of the loosest possible definition of prevention. As FCSS director Scott Rodda explained, once you start targeting specific groups within a community, you are no longer doing primary prevention.

Perhaps that fits the broadest possible definition of prevention, but it’s difficult to see how withholding money from one group because of a perceived lack of inclusion in favour of another, which offers nowhere near the same level of service, benefits youth as a whole.

There were several other reasons why the community services advisory board withheld funding from the youth centre in March, but we know only generalities because of the unelected fashion in which the board is appointed and the secrecy that veils its deliberations. Only after the Gazette asked for an answer were a few general reasons put forward – lack of attendance, duplication of services, emphasis on grant funding and programs deemed not of a preventative nature.

The group the city now favours is Building Assets and Memories, or BAM, a loose collection of students that holds an annual retreat and organizes other activities, such as last year’s long-boarding competitions. But applying the same standards used by the community advisory board raises questions about why the youth centre no longer qualifies for funding when it looks like BAM might. Take lack of attendance. According to Rodda, BAM boasts a membership of 120 people. According to the youth centre’s budget submission to council, it counted 520 youth in 2012. When it comes to duplication of services, the two seem polar opposites. BAM has no physical space set aside while the youth centre has a central location.

Reliance on grant monies? Well, BAM isn’t even eligible for grant funding because it has not been a registered non-profit for one year, as required for FCSS funding, but FCSS itself will hold some $114,000 for “youth asset development,” some of which BAM will receive when it gets a governance model together. It shouldn’t even be eligible, but FCSS has stepped in to help. In the meantime the youth centre has cut staff, programming and is trying to cut back on its space, all in an effort to continue helping youth. Preventative services? It seems highly unlikely the youth centre would turn away a young person because he or she wasn’t at risk.

No one wins in pitting BAM against the youth centre to determine who best serves our youth. Our youth are all different – they’re not all sports stars who volunteer 40 hours a week and they’re not all considered to be at risk. There should be a range of services that help them. There is no reason why FCSS money can’t be used to fund both. The youth centre doesn’t just have to be for at-risk kids, but there should be a safe place in this community for youth who need help, and the youth centre fits that bill. Inclusion is an idea – it doesn’t have to conform to a single model.

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St. Albert Gazette

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