No more lip service on youth issues

First published: May 05, 2005

For the second time in just less than one year, Northumberland County is thrust into the national spotlight by the actions of wayward youths.

Two young boys, a 15-year old and a 12-year old, are making headlines across the country as they face charges of arson and others related to the Horizons Plastics blaze last week, causing an estimated $10 million in damages and affecting countless lives of workers and nearby residents.

And yet, it was not quite a year ago, May 15 to be exact, when Troy Davey, 18, made national headlines after charges were laid relating to the death of Cobourg Police Constable Chris Garrett.

These incidents send an unsavory message to the world outside our community. It is certainly one many don’t want to concede, particularly local politicians. Nobody should think because we live in a rural area that the emerging problems with our youth are not as challenging as any big city.

It is far too easy, as some will do, to blame the family or parents for the recent tragedy. Sadly, one of the mothers felt it necessary to leave Cobourg rather than face the disapproving glare of neighbours.

But as any parent will tell you, it is a tough job. The tsunami of popular culture, peer pressure and media crash down with brutal force on young people and parents can do little to stem the terrible tide. Even the best parents will tell you young people face daily messages of violence, disrespect to adults, consumerism and moral shallowness. It is a tough job. Some parents are successful, while others are not. Nobody raises a child to commit a crime. And the parents of these youth should receive our compassion, not our condemnation. They need support, not disapproval.

And where is the support for youth in our community? The second fastest growing demographic in our region is young people. Besides all the seniors who are coming to our area to retire, the next largest is families with teenagers. And while politicians are giddy with all the new development and increased tax assessment, there is a social cost with this growth that is completely ignored.

The municipal leaders are quick to tell you how important youth are in the community, especially at election time. But it is little more than lip service. The best politicians offer the community is the local arenas, baseball diamonds and soccer pitches. But this cannot replace the kinds of services the community needs, in particular youth outreach programs specifically aimed at the troubled youth.

But don’t hold your breath because the past record is dismal.

In Cobourg, the skateboard park was a fiasco as money was spent on one location near Legion Fields, only to be moved to a second spot in Donnegan Park where neighbours complained.

Certainly, Port Hope council took a tentative step to creating a youth-oriented program back in early 2004 with the help of the Northumberland United Way when it created a youth centre, but its focus was mainly recreational sports and some socializing.

Skateboard parks and recreation programs do not reach out to errant youth. And all the programs, from the YMCA to 4-H to church organizations tend to help those who have the affluence or means to participate. But what about the rest?

Northumberland Liberal MP Paul Macklin continues to let the Joint Task Force on Youth gather dust on the shelf. Released in 2003 and sponsored by both Macklin and former Tory MPP Doug Galt, the recommendations made by Carolyn Campbell following extensive consultation with youth in our county lay in stasis. It is this type of inaction that fuels the cynicism of citizens. There is no reason this simple blueprint could not have been implemented.

Then, there is Northumberland MPP Lou Rinaldi, alias Lou Who? While Mr. Rinaldi seems to be spending a lot of time defending his government’s record, he has done little, if anything, addressing the serous problem facing our community when it comes to helping deal with troubled young people.

We ignore these young people at our own peril. Those who complain it will cost too much, only need to be reminded of the incredible cost of the fire, not only to Horizons Plastics, but also to the community at large. The cost of the fire departments, long-term health, police, environment and other services remain untallied. And let us not forget the loss of life, when one of our respected officers died in the line of duty.

Far too many times, municipal leaders only act when the federal or provincial government cough up the money. Then, like seagulls to bread, they immediately flock to cash screeching with sudden enthusiasm. Local leaders must join forces and find creative local solutions. And taxpayers must also be willing to contribute, as well as service clubs and other charity organizations.

We cannot wait. These two incidents demand action. We must find the financial resources to invest in reaching out to these wayward youth through long-term programs with professional staff who know how to connect with troubled teenagers and their families.

Macklin’s youth task force called for a series of municipal plans to address the needs of youth across the county and the creation of youth Community Action Teams to focus on services and co-ordinate activities in Northumberland. It also suggested a youth liaison to oversee the implementation. The plan is there. Let’s go.

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