The Abbotsford Restorative Justice and Advocacy Association offers the Project Safe Relationships for Youth program at four local schools. (Image by Photo Mix from Pixabay)

The Abbotsford Restorative Justice and Advocacy Association offers the Project Safe Relationships for Youth program at four local schools. (Image by Photo Mix from Pixabay)

‘Safe relationships’ the focus of program offered at 4 Abbotsford schools

Abbotsford Restorative Justice partners with school district and University of the Fraser Valley

The Abbotsford Restorative Justice and Advocacy Association (ARJAA) is currently offering a program at four local schools that is focused on safe relationships.

Project Safe Relationships for Youth is currently being offered at Grade 8 and 10 classrooms at two secondary schools (Robert Bateman and W. J. Mouat) and two middle schools (Howe and W.A. Fraser).

The program is currently one year into a three-year $130,000 grant awarded to ARJAA from the Vancouver Foundation.

The project will continue at the four schools for the next two years.

Project Safe Relationships is divided into four modules: Healthy vs. Unhealthy Relationships, Maintaining Healthy Relationships, Legal and Social Media Issues, and Resiliency and Resources.

Among the topics addressed in those modules are dating and relationship abuse; assertive communication skills, self-awareness and emotional intelligence; and online safety.

ARJAA executive director Christine Bomhof said one of the most impactful exercises is having students looks at how particular relationships affect their life, breaking them down into areas such as school, work and mental/emotional health.

She said Project Safe Relationships helps students to understand what healthy relationships look like, identify signs of unhealthy or unsafe relationships, set and maintain healthy boundaries in their online relationships, and access support or available resources if they need help.

Bomhof said the association recognized the need for this type of program through its experience with youth in Abbotsford schools, as well as through discussions with school administrators, teachers, counsellors, the Abbotsford Police youth squad and other community partners.

ARJAA then applied for a Systems Change grant through the Vancouver Foundation, which funds projects that serve the needs of the greater youth community.

ARJAA partnered with Dr. Amanda McCormick and Dr. Zina Lee of the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice at University of the Fraser Valley (UFV), which will also evaluate the project.

Together, they created a facilitator’s manual, an online student handbook, and a wallet card listing resources that the students can access should they need support.

Bomhof said the Abbotsford school district has been “very supportive” of the project.

ARJAA operates three main areas of programming:

n restorative justice, where they work with youth who have come into conflict with the law, and the affected parties meet to create an agreement to repair harm that is fair, timely and proportionate and holds the responsible party accountable.

n restorative mentoring, where a youth is paired with a responsible adult mentor.

n restorative action, which can take a preventive form – such as through “learning circles” – or a restorative form, such as having facilitators mediate between students in conflict to help develop an understanding on how their behaviour impacts others and to repair harm.

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