Inner City Diary
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Kid gloves for kid thugs just won't do anymore
June 30, 2002
I know they’re only kids, but this is getting a little crazy!

What do you do when a pack of kids, some over and some under the age of twelve are running rank in the neighbourhood?

I’m not talking about playing games, riding bikes, or generally being their noisy, summer selves. What I’m talking about is bands of little kids assaulting people, aggressively “panhandling,” climbing on other people’s roofs, smashing car windows, vandalizing entire blocks at a time. This is beyond mischievous kids having fun. These are malicious children causing havoc.

Folks around here are not just frustrated by the actions of the kids. They’re getting even more frustrated by the lack of action by people they expected would be able to deal with the problem.

One resident phoned Child and Family Services to complain about a roving group of kids under the age of 12 from several specific homes on the block. The response was, “According to the law, if there is someone over 12 with them, they technically have a caregiver.” My friend told me, “That’s just another way of saying that it’s not their problem.”

Another resident called the police. Their response was similar. “I’m sorry, ma’am, but if the kids are under 12 years old there’s really nothing we can do. Even if they’re over 12 it’s tough, but under 12 it’s next to impossible.”

By now some of you may be wondering about the parents. Where are they in all this? Residents tell me that the parents have been alternately too overwhelmed, inebriated or defensive to respond positively to the concerns of their neighbours.

The neighbours up and down the street are scratching their heads. The parents won’t or can’t help, and the cops and CFS can’t do a thing. Who’s left to call?

Maybe the city’s Animal Control Branch? I know it sounds goofy, but it seems there are stricter laws about stray or biting dogs than there are for stray or destructive kids. Let’s see, tight collars and short leashes…

It’s tempting for some to start a rant about non-responsive cops and CFS workers. But when I think about it, I kind of feel their frustration.

Community cops are already chasing hookers, picking up drunks, herding sniffers, let alone all the crimes we ask them to solve and prevent. But even on the serious stuff, the courts seem to spit them out just as fast as the cops bring them in. I guess I can feel their reticence about chasing 10 year olds off garage roofs while wearing over 20 pounds of Kevlar and gear.

I’ve heard that CFS workers in Central Winnipeg are already dealing with over 1300 calls per month. That’s scary! That breaks down to an average of over 40 calls per day about kids in danger in the Central Area of Winnipeg alone. I can imagine the overworked worker saying all kinds of things.

The other evening we had a meeting with a CFS intake supervisor. She listened to the horror stories about several of these families. We stressed that the kids are really in need of protection (as are we). She assured us that CFS will be taking some action.

There are lots of other ideas. Mentoring programs, restorative justice, and recreation were among the more standard ideas. I kind of like the idea of restorative justice. Especially if it means the kids have to work at restoring the damage they’ve done. There was mention of an “Odd Jobs for Kids” program, paying kids for smaller constructive jobs in the community, providing a little cash, a little productivity and corresponding positive relationships.

Then there were a few less standard ideas. Some residents will pass on videotapes of the kids – not just to police, but to CFS. There was also talk about more patrol or security programs.

I started wondering about the parents again. I know some kids can be jerks despite the best efforts of their parents. I used to be a pretty good example of that.

But when parents stop trying to keep their young children on the right track, I figure they either get help or give up their kids to someone who will allow them to stay alive and have a chance to thrive.

If they can’t control their kids, maybe those parents should be required to take parenting courses. And if they don’t attend, there should be consequences. If they’re working, they should be fined. If they’re on assistance, the assistance cheques should be held. If this sounds harsh, the precedent is already set. The province already withholds the assistance cheques of people who miss their job training courses. Why not parenting courses? Cars are withheld from “Johns” until they take (and pay for) John School.

We need to increase the motivation of everyone to care about the safety of these kids. “It’s not my job” just won’t cut the mustard anymore. And we definitely can’t afford to watch parents stop trying.
Copyright 2002
Rev. Harry Lehotsky
Rev. Harry Lehotsky is Director of New Life Ministries, a community ministry in the inner-city of Winnipeg, Manitoba.
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