West Kootenay Future Works Project
The West Kootenay Future Works Project was designed to support the Youth Criminal Justice Act by promoting the rehabilitation and reintegration of young offenders through skills-based work mentorship and individualized educational programs. The project focused on the individual needs and abilities of each participant, and involved a variety of community supports.
The project, which ran during the 2004-2005 fiscal year, encouraged 12 young offenders to connect with their communities through educational and employment opportunities. Participants had access to study programs and short-term jobs, thanks to partnerships with local businesses and schools.
The work component involved a minimum of 220 paid hours over 29 weeks. Each participant was matched with an employer offering short-term work (for an average of 10 hours per week) that matched the youth’s interests and skills. Preference was given to employers interested in hiring participants after the completion of the initial term. The school district paid for all insurance and work-safety training.
The educational component also involved 220 hours over 29 weeks. Each participant followed an Individual Educational Program that emphasized subjects related to his or her job. The educational component was delivered in a variety of settings: online, home study, classroom, and alternative school environments.
The program manager helped participants access support for various life skills, such as banking and time management. Many participants were required to follow conditions of probation orders, such as community work hours and victim restitution.
VisionLink Consulting, an independent firm based near Nelson, British Columbia, assessed the project and published a report in June 2005. The assessment process included comprehensive interviews with people directly involved in the project (teachers, work mentors and youths [or “participants”]) and a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) analysis.
The project demonstrated that strong support exists in the community for the rehabilitation of young offenders. Many local businesses participated in the project, including restaurants, hardware stores, construction and renovation contractors, a daycare, and a computer sales and service firm. Teachers and administrators from the local school system, British Columbia School District No. 20, also provided strong support. The project benefited from all aspects of the district’s alternative-school system, including online learning centres in Trail and Castlegar. Other partners included youth probation workers, regional drug and alcohol counsellors and officials with the province’s Intensive Support and Supervision Program.
Poor communications practices had a negative impact on the project’s overall effectiveness. In particular, the lack of written materials made it difficult for partners to fully understand roles, responsibilities and expectations. It was unclear, for instance, whether the employer was also expected to serve as a mentor. Many employers did not know who they should contact if there was a conflict or problem with participants.
A multifaceted communications strategy would also contribute to the sustainability of the project in a number of ways. Awarding small tokens, such as certificates, t-shirts and letters of appreciation, can make participants and partners feel that their efforts are valuable. Media outreach is also important — obtaining coverage in community newspapers and radio stations would help raise awareness and attract new partners and participants.
Paid work experience is tremendously valuable, particularly for young offenders from impoverished or underprivileged backgrounds. The ability to earn money promotes attachment to the community.
Due to conflicts with the schedules of project participants, many of the job opportunities proposed by partners went unfilled. More flexible job arrangements — particularly during the summer months — would enable participants to benefit more fully from work opportunities.
Upon returning to school, some participants failed to maintain the study habits they acquired through the educational component of the project. Formal support targeting these youths should be available when they decide to go back to school full-time.
Although the project was generally successful, it would benefit from strategic leadership, such as a board of directors. To be sustainable over the long-term, the project requires stable, multi-year funding for administration and communications.
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