New program looks to engage local youth

Lake Cowichan students could be forming ‘youth council’ next September.

Cowichan Women Against Violence (CWAV) recently presented a new youth-based program, called the “Youth Lens,” to municipalities across the Valley – and it seems to have garnered the attention of Lake Cowichan’s town council.

CWAV has been developing the Youth Lens program for the past several years in conjunction with a number of local youth.

“It’s youth-led, so we’re not imposing what we think are the important issues,” Jane Sterk, Executive Director of CWAV, said. “We’re encouraging them to go to other youth to find out what the issues are.”

CWAV and the youth group have since took on a number of youth-related projects, such as youth walks and other initiatives.

The main barriers for youth that have since come to light through the Youth Lens are civic engagement and a lack of “safe environments” within the Cowichan Valley communities.

The report also found that some youth, primarily First Nations girls, are more susceptible to street harassment or sexual assault. Young men were found to experience higher levels of physical assault. Sterk said these problems could be partly alleviated, at a local level, if municipalities took this into account when deciding the placement of street lighting and width of sidewalks.

Last week, CWAV presented the program to municipalities across the Valley, including Lake Cowichan. Sterk said she was pleased with the reception she received from council.

“We don’t have a good avenue to hear from youth,” councillor Tim McGonigle said following the presentation. “The few times I have, it’s been refreshing. I’d like to support this.”

If the town were to implement the Youth Lens program, it would mean seeking out the needs of local youth and taking them into account when making a decision.

“By adopting [the Youth Lens], I would hope that when council adopts a new policy that they will instruct municipal staff to see that they have incorporated the Youth Lens into their recommendation and into their planning,” Sterk said.

One aspect of the Youth Lens that town council took a keen interest in is the “youth council,” which was recently incorporated into Duncan.

Sterk described the youth council as a “junior municipal council.”

The City of Duncan provides its youth council with staff support — its Chief Administrative Officer brings reports to the council table, and provides support in researching the issues that arise.

“I think it’s made a big difference,” Sterk said. “It’s helped make youth safety a priority, and [Duncan] has made a commitment to hear more from the local youth when making decisions that would impact them.”

Lake Cowichan councillor Carolyne Austin said that she had visited Lake Cowichan School’s Youth Leadership class several times since the election, and that there was an interest in establishing a youth council or something similar. She said there was a strong possibility that one would be established during the next school year.

Sterk said the youth group would be presenting the program to a province-wide municipal conference, as well as to a group in Toronto, in the coming weeks.