Swift Current’s Safe Places program recently reached an important milestone, with 1,000 individuals having become Safe Places – Youth Certified just just 15 months after the launch of the program back in March 2016.
Brandi Bitz from Dickson Agencies was the 1,000th person to become Youth Certified after recently completing the program requirements.
A celebration event was hosted on July 6 to mark the significant progress of the program which was originally introduced on January 8, 2016 in conjunction with the screening of the Sheldon Kennedy documentary Swift Current.
To become Safe Places certified, an individual has to complete a Criminal Record Check, a Vulnerable Sector Check, and complete an on-line Respect in Sport training. The course helps participants identify abuse, bullying, harassment, and neglect.
“We’re grateful for people for coming on board because they recognize the value of what Safe Places represents. It’s not about questioning the 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,” explained Safe Places Committee Chair Kelly Schafer.
“In particular, we have been surprised as a committee in one group in particular, and that’s of the local businesses in town. 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 in.”
She noted that when the program was initially launched, individuals wondered why they should become certified if they don’t directly work with youth, while others questioned why they should complete the training when they are already qualified to work with youth.
“For us as a community, it is really about delivering a clear message,” she said. “First of all, not everybody has to have a criminal record check or obtain any sort of qualification or education to work with youth in this community. So we’re generalizing to think that they do.”
“We wanted to create a baseline standard, a quality standard of education and practice that says this is the bare minimum that we are requesting people to have in order to work with our youth.”
Safe Places is also designed to help raise the awareness of abuse, bullying, harassment and neglect that continues to occur in Swift Current and in communities across Canada.
“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 the 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 something isn’t quite right.”
Former Mayor Jerrod Schafer, who was the sitting mayor when Youth Certified was initiated, said the program is a pro-active move by the community to address the issues raised in Sheldon Kennedy’s documentary. He added he sees nearly daily reminders of the importance of a training and awareness program such as Safe Places because of ongoing instances of sexual abuse and bullying from across the country.
“The more we talk about it, hopefully victims are going to feel confident and safe enough that they can disclose, and they’ll be trusted when they disclose. We’re not going to eliminate the problem, but it’s going to help us start to hopefully get a handle on it.”
“It’s great to see the way the community has supported and endorsed it,” Schafer noted. “I think probably what’s more overwhelming for me…is the way lots of organizations and businesses have jumped on board. I think that’s a big reason why we’re at 1,000 certifications and the corporate support has just been really outstanding.”
The program was developed through an important partnership with Respect Group who invested the time, research and training to create the program. Clearly, Safe Places provides parents with additional piece of mind when sending their children to individuals are certified through the program.
“And I think it’s making our community a leader in changing the discussion so that like I said we’re on the offence of this topic instead of always being on the defensive. I think when you’re on the offensive you can actually start to make some social change around it, rather than just waiting for the next tragedy,” Schafer said.
“It can give parents a great piece of mind that if they’re sending their kids to something that endorses the Youth Certified program that they know that the people that are involved and working and taking care of kids at that event have invested in themselves,” he added. “To me it’s such a win-win. I think it enhances the organization or the events that are going on. But it really does make lives easier for volunteers and organizations.”
Thursday’s press event also featured the launch of the Safe Places Community Ambassador Program, a promotional program which will help share the experiences of Youth Certified individuals within the community and wider audiences.
Nathan Wiebe, the new Executive Director of the Swift Current Community Youth Initiative, was selected as the inaugural Community Ambassador for Safe Places.
As the first formal community champion of the program, Wiebe explained that the program is delivering numerous benefits across the community.
“Safe Places was something that was an easy answer for us to get involved with. It’s an incredible opportunity just to make sure that The Center stays a safe and fun place for youth,” Weibe said.
Having completed the program, and being encouraged by what he learned going though the on-line session, Weibe says Safe Places sends the message that the safety of our youth is of high importance in Swift Current.
“We wanted to make sure we were stand up to what we were telling the public we were about. This is something that showed we were willing to take the extra step to make sure that safety was important.”
He encourages people who have not completed to process to apply to become Safe Places – Youth Certified.
“It’s really good to get that knowledge. And I think it’ll surprise some people. It’s not your average, two boring hours. It’s really informative and it’s really applicable to what we would be dealing with in sports and within youth leadership.”
“I think it’s becoming more and more understood as something that’s important for people to maybe pursue and get more information about it.”
Additional information about the Safe Places Youth Certified program is available by visiting www.SafePlacesSK.ca.