Swift Current’s Safe Places Achieving Milestone
The City of Swift Current’s Safe Places — Youth Certified initiative has achieved a significant milestone only 16 months after it started in the community.
The initiative to reduce the risk of abuse and bullying for children and youth in the community was launched on March 9, 2016, and 1,000 individuals have become certified by early July.
An event took place at The Center in downtown Swift Current on July 6 to announce this achievement and to highlight the launch of the Safe Places Community Ambassador Program.
“I think we’re reached this much quicker than what we thought and it certainly hasn’t been seamless in terms of our roll out of this program, but the more people asked questions, the more we were able to find solutions and the more people come on board,” Safe Place Committee Chair Kelly Schafer said. “So we’re grateful for everybody that’s been involved in supporting rolling this program out. We’ve had huge momentum in the last couple of months and we know that this will just continue to grow over the next year.”
The goal of the initiative is that anyone leading activities or coming into contact with children should become youth certified through Safe Places. A person who wants to become certified will start the four steps of the process by completing the Respect in Sport Activity Leader online training.
The second step will be to do criminal record and vulnerable sector checks at the RCMP detachment. Then a person will complete a Swift Current Youth Certified application form, which is available at the RCMP detachment and City Hall, or at a participating community organization.
The final step will be to submit all the documentation to the Swift Current RCMP detachment. The RCMP will then process the application and issue a Safe Places – Youth Certified identification card.
According to Schafer a common question from people after the launch of the initiative was why it was necessary for them to become Safe Places certified.
“First of all we wanted to create a baseline standard of education and practice that says this is the bare minimum that we’re advising people to have in order to work with our youth,” she said.
In addition the Safe Places initiative makes a difference to raise awareness about abuse, bullying and harassment in the community.
“It’s about accepting that abuse is happening,” she said. “It’s happening here in Swift Current and it’s happening in every community. So what Safe Places does is it allows us to have a conversation with each other to ask questions, to have the confidence to ask whether those people that are working with our youth are acceptable or not. Are we delivering a quality enough standard. We should demand a better service for those that are working with our youth. It also gives us the courage to act if we think that something isn’t quite right.”
The online training provides information that will increase a person’s knowledge about the signs of abuse and it therefore makes it easier for them to act.
“So we’re grateful for people for coming on board because they recognize the value of what Safe Places represents,” she said. “It’s not about questioning your qualifications that you already have. It’s about standing together as a community as one to say we demand better for our kids and we want our community to be safe.”
A variety of people have become Safe Place certified during the past 16 months. Some are involved with sport and recreation activities, while others are youth leaders, child care providers, health care practitioners, parents, youth service providers and billets.
“We have been surprised as a committee in one group in particular, and that’s all of the local businesses in town,” she said. “We would generally expect that those working directly with youth would be the ones that would become youth certified, but we’ve been overwhelmed by the response of the local businesses to jump on board for this initiative, and this is exactly what Safe Places is all about. It’s about the community getting behind an initiative to stand up for what we believe.”
The 1,000th person who is Safe Place certified is a member of the local business community. Brandi Bitz, an account manager at Dickson Agencies, received her Safe Places card at the event during a formal presentation by Swift Current Mayor Denis Perrault. She believes Safe Places is an important initiative and she therefore wanted to show her support for it.
“I just thought it would be a good way to bring awareness and just thought it would be a great opportunity to take part in,” she said about her certification.
For her the importance of the Safe Places certification is that it makes it possible for an abuse victim to have someone to trust and to confide in.
“I think it’s everybody’s responsibility” she said. “It’s not just one person. It’s everyone in the community to look for those things and want a better community.”
Former Swift Current Mayor Jerrod Schafer played a leading role in the creation of the Safe Places initiative. He was one of the speakers at the event and he acknowledged the guidance and support of Sheldon Kennedy and the Respect Group towards the initiative.
“Obviously we wouldn’t be where we are without the great leadership of the Respect Group and Sheldon Kennedy,” Schafer said. “I think the work that he continues to do is really focusing on those impacts of raising the awareness of what happens to these victims and making it more relevant to talk about it so that we are more on the offensive rather than the defensive.”
He noted that Safe Places cannot always prevent abuse from happening, but training more people through the initiative will make them better at identifying abuse.
“Hopefully victims are going to feel confident and safe enough that they can disclose and they’ll be trusted when they disclose,” he said. “We’re not going to eliminate the problem, but it’s going to help us start to hopefully get a handle on it.”
He added that it is also easier for the recipient of a Safe Places card to volunteer at different events in the community.
“It’s so much easier to be a volunteer when you can just give your certification number,” he said. “You don’t have to go get multiple criminal record checks and all that kind of stuff. I think it’s easier as volunteers and it’s easier for organizations and it sends a great message that those that are volunteering have taken those steps for youth.”
According to Mayor Denis Perrault there has already been interest from other communities in the Safe Places initiative.
“A number of smaller ones, then a couple of larger ones that are trying to get more information,” he said. “Right now it’s at that education stage, but we do have a number of them that are interested in moving forward and we will be able to announce that soon.”
In Swift Current there will be ongoing efforts to increase Safe Places certification. The new Safe Place Community Ambassador program will help to promote awareness about the initiative in the community through the appointment of Safe Places champions who will share their experiences with people. These ambassadors will work with the Safe Places committee to talk to individuals, groups and other communities.
The first Safe Places Community Ambassador was announced at the event. He is Nathan Wiebe, the executive director of the Swift Current Community Youth Initiative at The Center. He noted that it was an easy decision for the organization to become involved with Safe Places.
“It’s an incredible opportunity to just make sure that The Center stays a safe and fun place for youth,” he said. “When we heard about it as a staff, it was something that it took a little getting used to, to understand what it was about, and once we took the program, we were all encouraged by what we went through and we just like to encourage our volunteers and our staff and just spread the word about it. So we’re just really honoured to be recognized as a Safe Places supporter and we’ll continue to do so.”
For more information about the Safe Places initiative, visit the website at www.SafePlacesSK.ca