The pioneering initiative by the City of Swift Current to protect youth in the community against abuse or maltreatment through the Safe Places certification program received recognition from the Respect Group.
The City of Swift Current was one of 25 organizations across Canada that received a special gift from the Respect Group, which provides online training and education programs to prevent abuse, bullying and harassment.
These organizations were early adaptors that have partnered with the Respect Group to make a difference. Respect Group co-founder Sheldon Kennedy visited Swift Current on Feb. 6 to present an engraved paddle to the City.
The engraved message on the paddle says “Thank you for paddling on this journey with us. We are sincerely grateful for your continued leadership.”
“It’s just really a thank you,” Kennedy said after the presentation. “Something simple, but a little thank you, because it can't be just us, it can't be just Sheldon. We need people that understand the importance of this in our communities and help us deliver that and make it become a reality.”
The City of Swift Current launched the Safe Places initiative in early 2016 and the four-step process to become youth certified includes the completion of Respect in Sport online training.
According to Kennedy the Safe Places initiative is one of the best models in the country to create awareness and prevent abuse, because it is a community approach.
“It's not just a sport issue, it's not just a school issue, and it's not just a workplace issue,” he said. “What we're impressed with here in Swift Current is that it is a community approach, and that's what we really need to have. It's all of our responsibility to do the right thing, it's all of our responsibility to step in and step up, and for us to create safer communities.”
It might never be possible to end all abuse, but he is encouraged by the progress that has been made and the greater understanding of these issues.
“I think that ultimately what we’ve done is we’ve given people confidence to come forward and to be able to deal with these types of issues and to get help if they need it,” he said. “Individuals that hurt kids or that work this way, they rely on society’s ignorance and indifference. So the more confidence and the more knowledge that we can create around these issues, the safer we’re going to be and the more protected our youth are going to be within our communities.”
Safe Places Manager Kelly Schafer said it is a real honour to receive this recognition from the Respect Group.
“It's emotional, because we know the history and what Sheldon means to this community in the transformation and what we've done as a community to take a step forward, to take a leap of faith, to be leaders, and making change being the change,” she mentioned. “Everybody that's involved is really passionate about what Safe Places represents, what it means for the future, what it means for the community, and what it means for our kids.”
The Safe Place certification process includes the online training component as well as carrying out criminal record and vulnerable sector checks at the local RCMP detachment. The certification remains valid for three years. There are currently 2,250 people in the community who are Safe Places certified.
“That's a huge achievement in a short space of time and it's still gathering traction,” she said. “We're still seeing continued recertifications. We're not seeing drop-offs of people that it seemed like a great idea at the time and they're not buying back into it. People are buying back into it, because it's a proud thing for people to have and to represent Safe Places and what that means for the community.”
The City of Swift Current has developed a Safe Places community implementation package. Two other communities, Gull Lake and Huron County in Ontario, have already implemented Safe Places. Other communities in southwest Saskatchewan have also expressed interest in the program.
Eight local schools have already partnered with the Safe Places initiative in Swift Current. Staff in the education sector who want to become Safe Places certified have the option to complete the Respect in School online training.
Schafer is happy with the participation of Swift Current’s youth service organizations and sport organizations in the Safe Place initiative. There has also been strong support from the business community, and some business have made Safe Places certification a requirement for employees.
“We've recently done a strategic planning session for Safe Places, because it was positively growing in ways that we weren't sure where we should be going,” she said. “We're a small group of people trying to make change.”
One of the outcomes of this planning session was to affirm the need for ongoing efforts in the community to implement Safe Places.
“We need to bridge the gap between those who don't have any checks and balances or training in place with those that do or those that maybe aren't quite following up with those,” she said.
They want to see all youth service providers in the community to become involved with Safe Places and to receive certification. They also want to connect with other individuals in the community who are not necessarily working with youth, but still have a connection with them.
“One area that we'd like to work on is all those that maybe aren't part of an organization, because it's about knowledge and understanding and confidence to act in situations,” she said. “It's relevant to everybody. Everybody knows youth in some capacity and it's about finding a way to make it relatable to everybody.”