Youth crime prevention needs to widen focus beyond 'at risk' kids: Kwantlen prof

Professor Gira Bhatt, a member of the South Asian Community Coalition Against Youth Violence's executive committee, says efforts to curb the violence have so far only focused on "at-risk" youth, rather than all youth in general.

'Efforts should also extend to those kids who are not at risk yet,' says Gira Bhatt

June saw thousands of people rally against gun violence in Surrey. Professor Gira Bhatt says the violence won't stop until governments take a more inclusive approach to youth crime prevention. (Meera Bains/CBC)

As many of Metro Vancouver's newly elected city councils prepare to meet for the first time, a group of activists is calling on the new municipal governments to take a different approach in tackling youth crime.

The South Asian Community Coalition Against Youth Violence works to support the positive development of young people in cities such as Burnaby, Surrey and Vancouver.

There has been increased public pressure on youth crime prevention since two teenagers were killed during a targeted shooting in Surrey this June. The shooting was followed by the "Wake Up" rally, which protested gun violence.

But Professor Gira Bhatt, a member of the coalition's executive committee, says efforts to curb the violence have so far only focused on "at-risk" youth, rather than all youth in general.

How to define 'at risk'

"We believe that efforts should also extend to those kids who are not at risk yet, and that part has not been looked into," said Bhatt, who teaches psychology at Kwantlen Polytechnic University.

Bhatt said she'd like to see the new councils allocate resources to community programs that bring young people together from all walks of life. She said it can be difficult to define "at risk" behaviour, so it's important for these programs to appeal to everyone.

Through her work, Bhatt said she has learned poverty and familial disfunction aren't necessarily factors that lure youth into the gang lifestyle. She said many youth who find the criminal lifestyle appealing come from well-to-do backgrounds.

"Families are often totally shocked that their kids were involved in such activities," said Bhatt.

"Just because the kids are doing well in school or they are star athletes, doesn't mean they are beyond the lures of gang lifestyle."

Bhatt added that there has also been a recent shift to younger recruitment. When she began her career, the fear was teenagers being recruited into gangs. Now, gangs are targeting children as young as 11, she said.

Bhatt said she would like to see city councils meet with community groups to learn the specific needs of local youth outreach programs. She then stressed the importance of new governments collaborating with those community groups to develop inclusive crime prevention strategies.

"The governments need to listen. To listen to the community voices," she said.

With files from The Early Edition

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