Centre helps girls ditch crime

Alisha says a year ago she was hanging around with the wrong crowd, missing school and getting into trouble.

But a visit from Midland Police and Community Youth Centre social worker Rachel Herford helped set her on a new path.

Now 16, Alisha is working hard on her studies, wants to get a job and prefers to stay home with her three-month-old son than go out with friends.

"I came to PCYC and they got me on the rails where I needed to be and helped me," she said. "It's given me direction . . . coming here keeps my mind occupied.

"The baby has changed me and I'm slowly changing myself."

Midland PCYC has been working with police youth crime intervention officers to help troubled or "at-risk" young women, offering new opportunities and skills and trying to divert many from a life of offending. In the past year, the centre has provided continuing support to 16 young women, most referred by police.

Many have committed crimes that have seen them placed on court orders and Ms Herford supports them through those.

Some join PCYC programs, others just want help to re-enrol in school, apply for Centrelink or get a job.

Three of those young women have completed their court orders and stayed out of trouble, while others are still on the court orders, Ms Herford said.

Three of the four girls whom Midland PCYC helped to enrol in school are still attending and two of the three girls offered work experience followed through and gained new skills, she said.

"Having one young woman, who only last year was one of the top offenders in the district, walk through our doors voluntarily is a stand-out example of the positive influence we are having on the local community," Ms Herford said.

She said though it was awesome when someone successfully finished a court order or stayed at school, in her line of work the wins she looked for could be small things.

"I used to go shopping with some of the girls for ingredients for food they planned to cook at the centre," she explained. "Now they go shopping by themselves and provide us with a receipt."

It is not uncommon for teenagers referred to the centre to have unstable home lives, Ms Herford said. She found the best solution was to offer support to the whole family, whether that was trying to help them keep housing, providing regular food packages or referring them to other programs.

Boredom was a common reason many of the young women gave for making poor decisions.

Ms Herford creates new programs based on feedback from the teenagers and enlists their help to develop the activities - which engages them and teaches skills such as organisation, budgeting and leadership.

The centre has just started a social netball group, which Kirstie Garlett will help coach.

The 22-year-old started attending a leadership course at the centre about five weeks ago at the urging of a relative who had been referred there.

"I needed something to do with my life," Ms Garlett said. She already has certificates for coaching and umpiring and hopes her involvement in the netball program will help her job prospects.

"I want to get a job in the sport and recreation industry - especially in basketball," she said.

"Through Midland PCYC, I've learnt that there are so many options out there for me."

'Having one of the top offenders in the district walk through our doors voluntarily is a stand-out example of the positive influence we are having.'" Social worker *Rachel Herford *

The West Australian

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