Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Cowichan Valley has received a $40,000 grant from the Province of British Columbia, through the Civil Forfeiture Crime Prevention and Crime Remediation grant program, to support school-based mentoring services to youth at high-risk for involvement in crime. This funding will expand the existing school-based mentoring program into new schools and implement a priority participant criterion (targeting youth facing disproportionate risks for future criminality) that will reflect provincial and national research as well as community-specific knowledge/evidence on youth and crime.

Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Cowichan Valley matches caring adults and older teens with vulnerable children, facilitating life-enhancing mentoring opportunities that empower at-risk  youth to reach their full potential. Mentoring programs include traditional community matches (Big Brothers, Sisters, and Families paired with a child in need) and school-based matches (in-school mentoring that also includes teen mentoring, seniors-for-kids, and group sessions).

Civil Forfeiture funding will support the expansion of BBBSCV’s school-based mentoring services to new schools in the Cowichan Valley and implement a new referral process developed in collaboration with local police, community health networks, and other social service organizations. This new referral process will identify factors correlated with an increased risk of criminality (e.g. mental health challenges, aggression/anti-social behaviours, previous conflict with school/police/authority figures, family incarceration, etc.) and ensure that children facing a disproportionate likelihood of future involvement in crime are provided with proactive mentoring supports.

This preventative, collaborative, and integrated approach reflects the recommendations of the Report of the Blue Ribbon Panel on Crime Reduction, the Provincial Guns and Gangs Strategy, and the McCreary Centre’s Adolescent Health Survey – fostering positive relationships with peers, role-models, and community as a critical “protective factor” that target children-at-risk before they become involved with crime. Most importantly, this service specifically addresses children “in the gap” between fragile living situations and official child protection.

Research (Cohen, 1998) demonstrates that the typical “career offender” that starts off as a juvenile accrues a significant social cost across their lifetime – approximately $1.5-1.8 million (1997 USD). This emphasizes the importance of investments in preventative social programs. A proactive approach is particularly important in the Cowichan Valley which is currently ranked 14th (out of 78) in BC on the composite index of crime, with spikes in serious youth crime around Lake Cowichan (triple the BC rate). Civil Forfeiture Grant funding will support the expansion of this initiative into Lake Cowichan School.

“The Cowichan region is facing a child vulnerability crisis,” says Erin Generous, Executive Director of Big Brothers Big Sisters. This crisis includes early development vulnerability and youth mental health hospitalization rates far in excess of provincial averages, as well as numbers of children in care or in need of protection that are 2 and 7.5 times, respectively, that of the BC generally. In addition, Duncan is repeatedly named as one of the worst cities in the province for child poverty (First Call Child Poverty Reports, 2015-2017).

“These factors create intersections of vulnerability that expose Cowichan Valley children to disproportionate risk of future criminal behaviour and the negative life-path that follows,” says Generous. “This is a significant detriment not only to the individual, but the entire community. Mentoring remedies this imbalance early through the simple but highly effective strategy of caring interpersonal relationships. Positive social connections have a profound effect on a child’s future.”

Crime is on the rise in the Cowichan Valley, as evidenced by recent North Cowichan/Duncan RCMP Detachment Mayor’s reports showing a growing case load and rise in calls for service. The Cowichan region experiences higher rates of “serious crime” than the Island Health Region (Cowichan Local Area Profile, 2015) with particularly problematic rates (well above the provincial average) of vandalism, drug crime, and both sexual and non-sexual assault in the Lake Cowichan area. As such, the augmentation of BBBSCV’s referral program (made possible by Civil Forfeiture Grant funding) to better target children at risk of future criminality and the expansion of these mentoring services into new schools (including Lake Cowichan) over the 2018/19 school year is a necessary and timely intervention.

About Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Cowichan Valley

Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Cowichan Valley (BBBSCV) is an independent regional branch of Big Brothers Big Sisters Canada. BBBSCV matches at-risk children and youth with volunteer mentors from the community – fostering enriching interpersonal relationships that change young lives for the better. The organization has served the community since 1972, dramatically improving individual outcomes for youth and positively affecting the social determinants of health in the Cowichan region.

Website: www.bbbscowichan.ca

Facebook: @BBBScowichanvalley

Twitter:  @BBBSofthecv

Contact: Erin Generous, Executive Director

Phone: 250-748-2447

Email: erin.generous@bigbrothersbigsisters.ca