Keeping kids on the straight and narrow

By Ivy Jensen

A NEW police position in Echuca aims to crack down on youth offending in Campaspe and steer youngsters away from a life of crime.

Leading Senior Constable Bernadette Brooks knows her job inside out — she is a mother of five and has been purpose trained for the new role on top of her 32 years of experience in uniform.

As the youth specialist officer for the Campaspe area she is one of 42 around the state working with repeat offenders, aged between 10 and 20, involved in serious crimes, including evading police, assaults, aggravated burglaries, carjackings and anti-social behaviour.

She will also be flat out trying to corral as many as 540 truants not attending school because they are not engaged with the school system.

‘‘There is a great need for it here,’’ Snr Constable Brooks said.

‘‘The police in the Campaspe area are really good at identifying who is at risk and sharing that with me.

‘‘Originally I was to identify three to four young people who are at risk however there is a higher need than that.

‘‘That includes bullying and the fact there are so many young people not attending school in the Campaspe area.’’

During her years in the force, Snr Constable Brooks spent a lot of time doing undercover work in Melbourne’s transit division and has spent the past 22 years working at Mooroopna.

‘‘In Mooroopna I was dealing with a lot of young kids and when this position came up I was recommended for it,’’ she said.

She has already started working here with at-risk youth as well as local schools; the Navigator program, which aims to help young people aged 12 to 17 at risk of disengagement from school; local youth services such as Campaspe Cohuna Local Learning and Employment Network; courts and the Department of Health and Human Services.

‘‘We also do a youth forum run through council,’’ she said.

‘‘I have a good relationship with most of the schools and have been to most of them and I want to continue engaging with them.’’

Part of her role is to target bullying at schools, which she said was happening everywhere.

‘‘Most schools are trying the best they can possibly do,’’ she said.

‘‘It is a great community and I do deal with all of Campaspe and I am finding that the schools are very proactive but there are issues going on.’’

And while many teachers felt powerless to control unruly students, Snr Constable Brooks said parents were too.

‘‘We’ve had kids stealing from their parents to play Fortnite (computer game),’’ she said.

Through her work, she hopes to disrupt that ‘‘intergenerational feeling of hopelessness’’.

‘‘Giving kids the opportunity to break that cycle of poverty, violence and not going to school, giving them the expectation there is a little bit of hope,’’ she said.

‘‘The expectations for each individual kid is up to them, not just what their families expect of them.’’

And so far, she seems to be making progress.

‘‘The majority of kids are definitely happy to engage. I think sometimes parents’ expectations are what needs to change,’’ she said.

‘‘Sometimes young people are just dealing with their life and they’re doing it quite well but the parents are sometimes expecting something else. Just be happy with your kids, just be grateful they’re healthy and doing OK.’’

If anyone would like to speak to Snr Constable Brooks, they can contact her on 5483 1500.