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Irish Youth Workers Observe Local Agencies

By Joyce Kryszak

Buffalo, NY – The Atlantic Corridor USA last week hosted a group of Irish at-risk youth workers as part of an ongoing, international cultural exchange. The delegation took home some ideas about how local youth agencies handle such common problems as substance abuse and gang violence.

The trouble with kids today appears to be, sadly, the same on both sides of the ocean. The 12 men and women from the Republic and Northern Ireland said they found all three countries are combating largely the same problems -- alcohol and drug abuse, teen pregnancy and depression. Gang violence is also no stranger in Ireland.

Trevor Long is with the Northern Ireland Court Service. Long says a legacy of deep division and hatred have made paramilitary gangs very attractive to Irish kids. But Long says, like in America, it stems from urban poverty. And he says the solutions are also need to be much the same.

"If the churches and the youth groups are not recruiting the young people, you can be sure the para-military groups are," Long said. "These groups are very good at recruiting. So, we've got to be as good as them, if not better, and give the kids something positive in their lives."

Members of the delegation all agreed that it will take a cooperative effort to combat growing youth problems. They say that means working with each other in the Republic and Northern Ireland, as well as with other countries, such as America. Padraig Boland works with troubled youth in the Republic of Ireland. He says there must be a common will to find solutions.

"It has to be more than hope because we don't have a choice, if we want to seriously respond to the needs of young people," Boland said. "We all have to develop collaborations, to learn from each other."

Later this year, a group of local at-risk youth service workers will travel to Ireland to take a look at how agencies there are dealing with youth related issues.