Councillor Ferguson stated that the coronavirus pandemic had been tough on everyone, particularly young people as they had lost their support networks and ability to socialise. She stated that over the past year there has been a significant increase in anti-social behaviour as youths were coming together in an attempt to find a ‘new normal’. She stated that villages and areas struggled to engage with them online and there was a real sense of digital fatigue. She stated that over the weekend, parents had expressed concerns regarding a group of approximately 40-50 teenagers who had gathered in her local area. She stated that they were suspected to be drinking and putting themselves into dangerous situations. She reported that there had also been a recent fire by the railway lines and gatherings at old farm barns.
Continuing, she stated that the community groups have attempted to engage online and were also trying to train volunteers to engage with young people on the streets. She further stated that Community Safety Wardens are out on the streets on numerous occasions and the police have also been called. She felt that the support of the Education Authority was needed and the intervention of youth workers. She expressed concern that youth workers had recently been stood down, which was worrying. She commended the youth workers who did fantastic work with the youth of the city and district. However, some rural areas did not have the required structures in place compared to urban areas, therefore relied on the Education Authority (EA) to step in at times of crisis. She felt that it was important that intervention teams should be available to engage with those young people and should also be designated as an essential service.
Councillor Ferguson Proposed, Seconded by Councillor Mooney
That Members write to the Minister of Education and the Education Authority, expressing a need for on the street youth work and in particular areas currently dealing with high levels of anti-social behaviour, and areas like rural villages which rely on the support of the EA.
And we ask the minister to consider designating crisis and intervention youth workers as essential.
Councillor Duffy stated that as a point of information, there was work ongoing in the Ballyarnett DEA in that regard. She advised that provisions were being made for bespoke youth work which included on street work. She stated that there was a programme of work with plans that had to be sent through on a weekly basis to the EA for approval and suggested that this be explored.
Councillor Ferguson advised that unfortunately, the rural areas had not been able to be explored. She stated that youth workers had attempted to engage with the EA and there was an EA community centre which was currently trying to provide some online training to volunteers. However, they have been unable to obtain that bespoke package. She advised that after contacting youth workers in the Ballymagroarty area, she was informed that they would be stood down. She stated that attempts had been made to have a bespoke programme introduced in the rural areas and through community workers. She advised that the intervention team had been available on a weekly basis prior to the current lockdown period.
Councillor Edwards thanked Councillor Ferguson for bringing forward the proposal. He stated that anti-social behaviour was a major issue across the entire city and district. He stated that in relation to the Derg area, he had met with representatives from the EA in December who advised that they had workers in place in the Strabane town area. However, there was no provision throughout the rural areas. He stated that he and other Elected Representatives from the Derg DEA had met with the PSNI on the matter and urged the EA to place its’ officers into the rural areas. However, no action has been taken in that regard.
Alderman Hussey stated that he concurred with the sentiments expressed by the previous speakers. He stated that he appreciated the comments made by Councillor Duffy regarding projects in the urban areas. He felt that there was a greater capacity within those rural areas for voluntary community workers being employed. In respect of Community Safety Wardens, he felt that there was very limited rural access to that service. Therefore, any assistance towards engaging and intervening with those involved in anti-social behaviour on the streets was to be welcomed. He felt that education through the EA Youth Service regarding providing available alternatives during the current circumstances was important.
Alderman Devenney concurred with the sentiments expressed by the previous speakers regarding the rural areas. He felt that there had always been an issue regarding parity between urban and rural. He stated that his Party fully supported the proposal as it was important to get as much assistance as possible for those people living in the rural area due to the increase in anti-social behaviour.
Alderman Warke stated that all youth workers were classed as essential workers and were all currently working above and beyond. He stated that there was a difference between urban and rural areas and concurred that more youth sector provision was needed throughout rural areas. He advised that the EA had tasked youth workers to different areas throughout the city and district. He suggested that the local EA office be contacted requesting them to send out local youth workers to particular areas.
In response to Alderman Warke, Councillor Ferguson concurred that the work carried out by the youth workers was fantastic and did view them as essential workers, however, it was a policy matter. She advised that the local EA office had stated that the Minister for Education had instructed them not to interact with young people. She further advised that when certain services were requested, they had been informed that they had to abide by the policies coming down from the Minister for Education and the Education Authority.
Members were asked to vote on the proposal, the result of which was unanimous.
Recommended That Members (i) write to the Minister of Education and the Education Authority, expressing a need for on the street youth work and in particular areas currently dealing with high levels of anti-social behaviour, and areas like rural villages which rely on the support of the EA and (ii) ask the Minister to consider designating crisis and intervention youth workers as essential.
Alderman Warke referred to the Community Safety Warden Scheme and suggested that the PCSP be requested to provide provision for the Strathfoyle area.
In response, Councillor Ferguson stated that the Community Safety Wardens patrolled the area on a daily basis, particularly over recent days.