Early intervention key to success for Surrey RCMP youth support team

© Provided by Vancouver Sun Surrey RCMP's FYRST program works with students in Grades 4 to 7 who might be at risk of

A Surrey RCMP program that connects vulnerable youth with services has helped more than 100 kids and their families over the past 12 months.

Early intervention is at the heart of the Surrey RCMP Family and Youth Resource Support Team (FYRST) , which works with students in Grades 4 to 7 who might be at risk of “going down the wrong path,” said Surrey RCMP Cpl. Joanie Sidhu.

Parents and teachers sometimes see the first signs of trouble as kids enter the middle school years. Kids can be referred to the team , where they are matched with a police officer and counsellor who can connect them and their family to various services.

“We have seen these people who are engaged in drug or gang activities trying to recruit younger people to help them,” said Sidhu.

If parents or teachers see a change in a child’s behaviour it can be a “red flag” that something isn’t right.

“That can look different for every child, but maybe they’ve gone from being very outgoing to withdrawn,” said Sidhu. “Or they suddenly have new friends and they don’t want to share the details. Or they’re lying.”

Kids may start skipping school, couch surfing or meeting up with teens much older than them, added Amanda Peters, manager of Intervention Programs manager with the City of Surrey.

But supporting a child alone isn’t always the best option.

“We really see the need to support the family as a whole,” she said.

That means identifying a child’s risk factors, including housing insecurity, or drug or alcohol use in the home, or trouble accessing healthy food.

The FYRST teams develop a plan to help the student and family by connecting them with community resources, be that housing or food programs or counselling.

“Success looks very different for every family,” said Peters.

While the FYRST team essentially acts as a referral service rather than a mentorship program, police officers and counsellors are trained to approach youth and families with sensitivity. Relationship building is key to determining what kind of assistance they need.

“We don’t just give them a phone number to call,” said Peters. “We reach out to the programs for them to ensure they are a good fit and help them through the process.”

She pointed to an example where the FYRST team was able to help a child play sports by accessing funds through the Jumpstart charity. Other families have been connected to B.C. Housing and community services, as the team tries to provide support from various angles.

Sidhu said the FYRST team was established to compliment other Surrey RCMP youth and anti-gang initiatives, including youth liaison officers in schools.

“This gives parents and teachers a resource,” she said. “There are no criteria that needs to be met for a referral.”

 Surrey RCMP media relations officer Cpl. Joanie Sidhu.© Jason Payne Surrey RCMP media relations officer Cpl. Joanie Sidhu.

Sidhu said it is unclear how Surrey’s transition from the RCMP to a municipal police force will impact the program.

“As long as the RCMP is here, we’re committed,” she said.

The program, which began last November, spent most of its first year operating in the shadow of the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite that, FYRST connected with more than 100 youth and families, either virtually, by phone or through physically-distanced curbside visits.

The FYRST program accepts referrals from Surrey educators, community agencies, and the public by contacting the Surrey RCMP at 604-502-6498 or E_Surrey_FYRST@rcmp-grc.gc.ca.