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New programme to steer youths on right path

By Hayley Gastmeier
[email protected]

Wairarapa Police have launched a new initiative designed to steer youth away from a life in the criminal justice system.

Spearheading the programme is Masterton’s Senior Constable Mark Brown, who has been working with child and youth offenders for almost a decade.

The programme targets Wairarapa youth aged 6 through to 13, who are considered to be most at risk of offending, with the next step being to work with that person and their families to find solutions.

Mr Brown said various risk factors could be having older siblings that offend, skipping school, or being a witness to family violence.

“There’s a wide range of risk factors to enable me to identify who these kids are.

“Then I can look to work with them, in conjunction with other community partners, in an effort to prevent them coming into the youth justice system.”

Drawing on his experience, Mr Brown said it was evident that offenders were getting younger and the crimes they were committing were progressively becoming more serious.

Before, it was a case of dealing with burglary, shoplifting and graffiti, he said.

“Now we are are seeing [charges of] injuring with intent to injure.”

Mr Brown said a “fresh approach” was needed to curb this trend.

“If we continue to do what we’ve always done we’ll continue to get the same outcomes . . . we need to be thinking outside the square in an effort to prevent that.”

Mr Brown pitched his programme idea to senior management at Masterton Police, who agreed to pursue the initiative.

He will now split his time between youth aid and getting the development programme off the ground.

He said once an at-risk youth was identified, he would meet with their family to assess their specific circumstances.

“In conjunction with them, we formulate a plan moving forward.

“That could be as simple as me walking alongside this family for the next X amount of months — to be a sounding board for them, to offer assistance when they need it, to maybe even refer them to another community agency if that’s required.

“Going to the end of the spectrum, it might be a straight referral to another agency because I think they’d be more suited to dealing with the circumstances than I would be.”

Interventions cited by Mr Brown included multi-systemic therapy, Strengthening Families and Child Youth and Family, with many more Wairarapa agencies available to tap into if need be.

He said it was “frightening” to see that some youths these days had a “blatant disregard” for the law.

“This is the sort of mindset I’m trying to change.

“It’s the early intervention, the prevention that I’m targeting, to try and reverse this trend.”

The programme kicked off on March 1.

Mr Brown said parents or guardians concerned by the behaviour of their respective children’s behaviour can contact him at Masterton Police Station on (06) 216 1252, or by emailing him at [email protected].

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