Pubdate: Fri, 21 May 2004
Source: Flamborough Post (CN ON)
Copyright: 2004, Flamborough Post
Author: Dianne Cornish


Issue identified as major concern in schools three years running

A youth drug diversion program is breaking new ground not only locally but
across the province. "This is the first intervention program in Ontario that
is community driven with parental involvement," Sgt. Nancy Goodes-Ritchie,
youth services coordinator with the Hamilton Police Service, said.

The pilot project gives a youth possessing or using drugs the opportunity to
choose between being charged with an offence or joining the program.

A marked increase in the number of students using drugs prompted the
initiative. Aimed at students aged 12 to 17, the program seeks to provide
the support and motivation needed to put youth back on the right track.

"Our goal is to ensure these young people have no further police contact,"
Goodes-Ritchie explained.

She said the project has the backing of both local school boards, the
Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board and the Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic
District School Board.

Their cooperation has been solicited by means of supporting a suspension
deferral program to be run in conjunction with the drug diversion program.

Students participating in drug-related activity may get a deferred or
reduced suspension from their respective school boards if they complete the
diversion program.

Goodes-Ritchie said the need for the program was evident. Three years ago, a
youth crime analysis conducted by Hamilton Police showed a 98 per cent
increase in youth drug offences in Hamilton between 1996 and 2000.

Other factors also indicated there has been a dramatic increase in the
number of young people using illegal drugs, she noted.

For the third consecutive year, the Chief of Police Advisory Committee,
comprised of student representatives from area high schools, has identified
drug use as the number one issue of concern at area schools. School liaison
officers have echoed those sentiments and drug sweeps at various Hamilton
high schools have further demonstrated the need for action.

During the last school term, twelve sweeps resulted in 79 young people being
caught using drugs.

To get the new program up and running, Goodes-Ritchie turned to community
agencies for support. She describes their response as nothing short of

Agreeing to assist the Hamilton Police were Good Shepherd Centres,
Alternatives for Youth, the John Howard Society, and the City of Hamilton's
culture and recreation department as well as its social and public health

Each organization gave without compensation.

Both in its development and its operation, the program is community-owned.
The vital role that parents play in their children's development is also
recognized with parents included in the preparation, delivery and follow-up
of the program.

They will attend sessions with their child while assisting the youth in
correcting their behaviour.

Teens referred to the program by police will be screened by the John Howard
Society and Alternatives for Youth. The screening will match them to
programs best suited to their needs.

There are three streams of counselling--one-on-one therapy for youth
experiencing high levels or long-standing substance abuse; a five-part group
session for youths whose lives have been significantly affected by substance
use and the educational day, geared to youths who have been identified as
casual drug users.

A follow-up with each youth involved in the program will be held six months
after completion of the sessions.

To be eligible for entry, a number of criteria must be met.

There must be sufficient evidence to charge a youth with drug use or
possession, the youth must agree to enter the program, he or she must be
given their rights to legal counsel, they must demonstrate remorse as well
as accept responsibility for their actions and the police officer must
believe the referral is appropriate. 
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