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Sooke and West Shore community group unveils plan to address youth needs

Village Initiative proposes five-year program with Sooke and West Shore participation
The Village Initiative hopes to improve health and well-being in Sooke and the West Shore. (Black Press Media file photo)

A South Island advocacy group, the Village Initiative, is calling for greater municipal participation in a program aimed at improving the health and well-being of youth in Sooke and the West Shore.

The Village Initiative is a network of over 60 community service organizations, including the Sooke School District, Island Health, and United Way South Vancouver Island. United by the philosophy of “it takes a village to raise a child,” the group presented a comprehensive five-year plan to Sooke council to address the needs of local youth.

Their initiatives focus on improved transit accessibility, creating safe environments for youth development, and implementing programs and services tailored to their specific needs.

“We’re aware there are serious youth issues in our community,” said Scott Bradford, co-director of the Village Initiative.

Recent data paints a concerning picture of youth mental health. The latest B.C. Adolescent Health Survey, conducted by the McCreary Centre Society every five years for the past three decades, found a significant rise in self-harm among youth. The 2023 survey reported that 24 per cent of youth had self-harmed, compared to 16 per cent in 2018 and 15 per cent in 2013. The survey also found increases in eating disorders and experiences of sexual abuse.

The Village Initiative hosted a two-day workshop in February with students and community leaders to discuss the survey results.

“The workshop aimed to develop a regional strategy through collaboration,” said Cindy Andrew, co-director of the Village Initiative. “We want to eliminate service gaps and ensure programs meet the needs of our youth.”

In Sooke, the group identified a lack of available space, service coordination challenges, and limitations in service provider capacity.

“Service providers are willing to expand services to Sooke, but finding affordable and appropriate space is a barrier,” said Andrew.

Sooke councillor Tony St-Pierre inquired about ways local government can support the Village Initiative. Andrew suggested appointing a council representative to the Village board, including youth voices in municipal planning, and allocating staff to collaborate on ongoing initiatives.

“This is timely work,” said councillor Dana Lajeunesse. “Collaboration is key to finding solutions.”

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Kevin Laird

About the Author: Kevin Laird

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