City explores alternate avenue toward crime prevention

While political battles over gun control and crime rates continue in Queen’s Park and city hall, Toronto focuses on the next generation in an attempt to prevent crime before it happens.

The After School Recreation Care Program (ARC), a city-funded initiative, provides youth living in Toronto’s priority neighbourhoods with a positive environment.

The program hires leaders in their teens and early twenties to supervise young children after school – much like camp counsellors –  while parents finish work.

With over 100 young staff in 19 locations across the city, Janet Hilts, recreation supervisor for the City of Toronto, said that ARC provides a unique opportunity for at-risk teens.

“We see young staff who come in and sometimes aren’t always making the best decisions or (are) struggling in many ways… the challenges of being a teenager are huge in this big city,” she said.

According to Mayor David Miller, the program was conceived with those challenges in mind.

Since September 2006, ARC has attempted to address two needs simultaneously: provide low-income and single-parent families with affordable after-school care, and give teenagers practical alternatives to sordid activity.

Miller said that part of the city’s crime prevention strategy involves engaging young people.

“The philosophy behind (ARC) is that if you invest in young people, fewer of them are going to get drawn into selling drugs and the gang culture,” Miller said.

Tod Debling, recreation coordinator at Antibes Community Centre in North York, supervises a team of young ARC leaders. He said he sees first-hand the way teens benefit from ARC’s leadership training.

“It’s providing positive opportunities,” he said. “(The benefit is) coming in here and working with kids and working with mentors, as opposed to… hanging out behind the school one day and, you know, having trouble roll up on you.”

While ARC provides a positive outlet for at-risk youth, Miller admitted that the program hasn’t yet shown tangible evidence of crime prevention.

“Can we put a direct line between ARC and reduced crime? No,” he said. “But we can say that we’ve been doing this work for two or three years now and the results… are significant.”

However, recreation supervisor Hilts said the lack of statistics doesn’t deter her. Working with ARC leaders and seeing them develop makes her confident that the program has a profound impact.

“They have a place to go everyday, it’s here (at ARC). It’s doing something that’s contributing to society and getting paid for it,” she said of the teen leaders. “Is it preventing (crime)? I’m sure it is.”