Empower Surrey aims to keep youth safe from gang life

Trusted adults, caregivers, and parents can prevent youth involvement in gang-related activities

Surrey RCMP’s End Gang Life awareness initiative aims to educate youth on the dangers of organised crime. (flickr/Province of British Columbia)

The City of Surrey’s Community Safety department launched the Empower Surrey website this month as part of the Surrey Anti-Gang Family Empowerment program which aims to address the rise of gang life and violence in the community.

It was created together with local youth who gave firsthand information about the current challenges they face. The website caters to parents, caregivers, and trusted adults to increase their awareness and give support to affected individuals and families.

Brian Aasebo, the community manager of Surrey’s Parks, Recreation, & Culture department. (submitted)

“Ultimately, parents are the first line of defence in strengthening protective factors for their children,” says Brian Aasebo, the community manager of Surrey’s Parks, Recreation, & Culture department.

“We’re reaching lots of at-risk youth and doing a great job with that. But we have significant potential to reach many young people if we equip parents with the [necessary] knowledge tools and resources,” he says.

Launched in January of 2019, the SAFE program continuously acts as a proactive approach to prevent gang involvement with five years of federal funding to support individual and partner programs. Even with the existing programs, it challenged the city council to find a new way to reach each individual and to provide the necessary support.

They formed a task force of politicians, law enforcement, community leaders, and academic developers to create Empower Surrey as “an inclusive, easy-to-access resource to help parents and trusted adults in recognizing risk factors for criminal involvements and, at the same time, empower them to engage in difficult conversations with their children about gangs and other tough topics,” says Aasebo.

Programs range from prevention to early and further intervention and enforcement. Prevention programs include empowerment and mentorship, and Early Intervention programs contain support teams and clinical counselling.

Further Intervention programs focus more on youth or families already involved with gang-related activities, and Enforcement programs address potential safety threats in cooperation with the RCMP.

The Children and Youth At-Risk Table is a non-profit initiative that supports the youth at risk of gang involvement or even before they display any negative behaviour. This is a proactive intervention program with 16 partners collaborating weekly “to identify vulnerable cases and mobilizing programs” for children ages six to 19.

Programs include specific topics such as substance misuse, sexual abuse, mental health, gender and sexual orientation, and online safety.

Aasebo says that in 2020, they managed to help families in need across Surrey through food security programs where they distributed around 9,000 meals per week in collaboration with four different partners. They also handed out laptops and tablets for families to stay connected to government services or schooling purposes.

“[The pandemic] certainly made it more challenging because we have to be creative and some things are just not possible. We try to be really creative and collaborative,” he says.

“There are a number of ways that the pandemic impacted us, but we found ways to work around it in a safe manner.”

In order to be more accessible, the organization started offering programs under hybrid systems.

They adapted to the pandemic with virtual counselling through video or telephone calls. Their website can be translated into over 80 different languages. They have curbside visits, in-person services with social distancing protocols for high-risk cases, and virtual parent groups every Tuesday at 7:00 pm, which are free to join, and no registration is required.