The Streetwise project was initiated by Carmona Services in response to a need for training and education in the role of law enforcement in modern Ireland, for people with very basic literacy. The development of the training programme was influenced by a number of topical issues, such as people with intellectual disabilities or those with little or no functional literacy now using their communities in a more meaningful way through living fuller and more independent lives. Greater access to employment and education has increased the number of situations where they may witness, or commit, crimes. It is also vital that vulnerable people feel safe and know how to effectively communicate with the emergency services should the need arise.
Irish people have become more affluent in recent times and with this affluence there has also been increased alcohol and substance abuse at all levels in society. These changes have highlighted the need to offer opportunities for learning about the hazards, responsibilities and legal requirements for people who might not have the capacity to learn about the laws pertaining to these issues in more traditional formats.
The Streetwise training course provides learners with education about these matters through methodology that can be easily assimilated by the learner regardless of their lack of reading skills. The delivery of the training by a member of the Gardaí ensures greater communication flow between the learner and the law enforcer and assists in breaking down cultural barriers that may exist between them and some marginalised groups
In February 2007 a poll conducted by Ipsos MORI on behalf of the Disability Rights Commission (DRC) in Britain revealed that a third of adults (32%) with a disability or long-term health condition did not feel safe in their locality. A quarter (24%) mentioned that they had difficulty using police services in their local area. Correspondingly, just over a third of women with a disability or long-term health condition (35%) did not feel safe from harm in their local area. (This figure rose to almost half of the adults (44%) with a mental problem.) Although this research reflects the situation in Britain, it may be assumed that figures in Ireland would bear similar parallels. A survey commissioned here in 1999 by the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform found that 28.8% of prisoners scored below an IQ level of 70- This indicates a significant level of borderline intellectual disability among the prison population.
Other relevant research undertaken by Laurence Taggart of the University of Ulster in 2004, examining substance misuse, found that people with intellectual disabilities now have increased opportunities to engage in using alcohol and other substances with both their disabled and non-disabled peers. This again is due to greater integration, finances and education. Consequently, as a feature of engaging in similar lifestyles as their non-disabled counterparts, this population may be equally exposed to similar stressors of living in a modernised culture, thereby leading them to use such substances as a coping mechanism / stress reliever and as a method of ‘fitting in’, ‘socialising’ and making new friends with non-disabled peer groups.
It is the intention of the Streetwise programme to offer a greater understanding to learners (with little or no literacy) about crime awareness and to enhance the personal safety of vulnerable individuals. Stronger relationships between the Gardaí and marginalised individuals will develop, leading to crime prevention through awareness and education. It is also hoped that this training will encourage individuals to access further education and literacy training through these links with community education in their local area.
The key to the innovative aspect of the training programme lies in the fact that it is delivered by a member of the Gardaí (with additional support from service-provider staff) in a community location. This type of training to a focused group has not been provided in the past and it has proved extremely valuable as a means of breaking down barriers between the Gardaí and members of the local community. It has enabled members of the Gardaí to learn to communicate more effectively with participants and to develop positive relationships with them. The Gardaí can also call upon the support and expertise of the service providers as needed.
The course has provided a vehicle for non-readers to voice their issues and concerns to the Gardaí and has encouraged them to exercise their rights vis-à-vis law enforcement. It shows the very real and practical application of community education. The project has encouraged participants to address security and law enforcement issues in their community through various means:
- The use of community learning spaces (such as Local Employment Services (LES), Vocational Education Committee (VEC) rooms and Further Education Colleges) has made them more familiar to the learners and opened up the possibilities for them to continue their learning in these community venues.
- The inclusion of the interactive DVD within the training programme utilises technology as a method of reaching those learners who find using technology less intimidating than printed matter.
- Participation on this course has met the strong need— expressed by some of the participants—to have more control in their lives and feel safer in their home and community.
- The Gardaí have gained a greater understanding of the needs and concerns of people with intellectual disabilities.
The former Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Michael McDowell, launched the Streetwise training pack in June 2006 and Garda Chief Superintendent (Community Relations) Pat Cregg fully endorsed the training pack and agreed to issue a directive to all garda stations around the country to support the training course.
Although the programme was designed and developed by an intellectual disability service provider, this is not evident in the course descriptor. It is hoped that other groups with literacy issues—adult literacy groups, early school leavers, Traveller groups, the prison service, etc—will also make use of this resource.
Interest in the Streetwise programme was further enhanced when the project was shortlisted for an Adults Continuing Education (ACE) Award in the ‘Expanding Community Participation’ category, which was coordinated by the National Adult Literacy Agency (NALA) in December 2006. Carmona Services, in conjunction with Sergeant Angelene Conefry, were invited to present an outline of the Streetwise Programme to delegates at the AGM of Inclusion Ireland in April 2007. In awarding accreditation to Carmona Services in April 2007, The Council for Quality and Leadership (CQL) endorsed the Streetwise programme as one of the strengths of the organisation.
By mid-2007 approx 33 intellectual disability services are delivering the training in different community venues around the country and additional enquiries have been received from several other services. Comments from the participating organisations include: ‘Of great benefit! Useful in conjunction with the Charter of Rights—Right to be safe!’, ‘Useful to use for FETAC Level 2, Personal Safety’, ‘An excellent programme’, ‘Very beneficial—our service users had very little awareness of what constitutes a crime, drugs etc.’
Some service providers have encountered difficulty in accessing their community Gardaí for the delivery of the training. We are confident that the Chief Superintendent of Community Relations will be able to expedite this issue; meanwhile in the majority of cases there has been no delay, and we hope that more Garda stations will support the initiative as it is disseminated nationwide.
The cost of the training pack (including course descriptor, DVD and post and packaging) is €50- The pack is available from: Audrey Carroll, Choices Department, St John of God Carmona Services, Glenageary, Co. Dublin (email@example.com).