In Surrey’s highways and byways they are known as the Wrap Around Team – 15 school liaison staff and their RCMP associates who help juveniles rated at extreme risk for homelessness, addiction, gang affiliation or sexual exploitation. The ultimate risk is death. But Jon Ross, a school district social worker, likes to contemplate the successes, which far outweigh the disasters.
“Our philosophy in helping is that we are equal partners with parents. We can’t pretend to be an expert on a particular young person. We have to honour the history and not judgmentally.”
The history for this story begins three years ago with a 14-year-old boy on the road to perdition.
His mother was interviewed by The Vancouver Sun but because of the serious nature of the criminal charges he would face as a minor, she cannot be identified. This is her story: “My son was hanging out with all the wrong kids and smoking pot. He had impulse control issues and wasn’t coping,” she said.
He ran away from home and came under the influence of an older male who supplied him with drugs and was involved in a series of armed robberies where replica firearms were used as well as bear mace.
“He was 16 and in jail awaiting a bail hearing when I called Jon. I was panicking,” she said.
Her son was released and went into care as he was too scared to return home.
“We had a meeting with Jon and John Wilson, the RCMP officer (embedded in the team) and the probation officer and drew up a plan for services he’d need going forward. “We were looking for drug counselling and for his schooling to continue because he’d ruined his reputation at school. At the time, we didn’t know what the Wrap program was.”
When the team met the boy, they found he wanted to learn the guitar, so they arranged for lessons.
“They were there making sure he didn’t miss his court appearances or other appointments, driving him, checking with him every day because he has difficulty self-managing and he has 22 bail conditions.
“He needed detox and rehab because he was using crystal meth, and Jon was involved in all that. He went to Peak House (for drug rehab) but was kicked out and put into a group home in Burnaby. Basically, all services were cut off because the Wrap program couldn’t reach him there.
“But Jon still kept in touch. My son got involved with some kids he didn’t get along with and got stabbed four times. Nothing life threatening, thankfully for us, and I brought him home.” That was two months ago. “Jon was able to put all the services back, get him back with a clinician (for his addiction and mental health issues), get him counselling, got him back into schooling, got him back with a social worker.
“He’s only at home now because of Jon’s help. He’s been a victim and a criminal all in one, and it’s hard to sort that out as a parent, but Jon’s provided me with counselling.”
So how is her son doing? “He’s a lot better. He’s managed to get himself out of those circles, and he’s got a job he loves. Jon and John Wilson are probably the only people he trusts.
“When he doesn’t meet his bail conditions, they just don’t stop working with him.
“They say, ‘What can we do to meet the conditions,’ again and again and again. They help him over and over and I’ve never seen them quit. No matter how many times he’s quit on himself – they never quit.
“Without the help of Jon Ross and his team, l would have lost my son. “He probably would be dead.” The Wrap Around Team has applied to The Vancouver Sun’s Adopt-A-School program for $10,000 as an emergency fund to help families on their caseload, many of whom are impoverished.
By Gerry Bellett (firstname.lastname@example.org)