The issue of young offenders appears in Irish courtrooms on an almost daily basis.
In 2008, 111 teenagers were remanded in custody for crimes they were accused of committing. After a conviction a judge can choose to send the young person into an institute or give a suspended sentence. Judges realise that this can often be the first step on a road to a life of crime and will often look to try and divert that course by calling for a probation report to assess the person’s situation and what would be the best resolution for a case.
The probation service in the department of justice was given a range of measures by The Children Act 2001 to develop a modern and conscientious framework to deal with the problem of youths breaking the law. The act sets down detention as been the last option and legislates to deal with the problem at a community level. A probation officer can advise a judge that in some circumstances a teenager getting into trouble with the law could best be helped with a positive role model. This is where Le Cheile comes in.
Le Cheile, the Irish for together, was set up in 2005 to create a mentoring service to people aged 12-18 in probation. The Children’s Act 2001 states, “The role of a mentor is to help, advise and support the child and the child’s family in its efforts to prevent a child from committing further offences and to monitor the child’s behaviour generally”.
Le Cheile is a limited company with charity status which receives funding from the Department of Justice. During the economic downturn it has seen its funding cut by 7% year on year. They recruit volunteers over the age of 20 to act as mentors and role models and full training is provided. A mentor and a mentee are matched by similar interests and backgrounds and meet weekly for 2-3 hours for a period of 6 – 24 months. The mentor will look to develop a relationship with the young person, listening to and offering advice and helping them in areas such as lifestyle choices, education and training and communication skills. They take part in activities of their choosing such as going to the cinema or playing pool and all costs are covered by Le Cheile.
“If it wasn’t for Mary I don’t know what I’d have done,
I’d probably be inside now”
Julia Alexander the mentoring manager says the best thing about the programme is that, “ these kids have adults talking to them all the time, they have doctors and social workers that are paid to try and help them but they sit up and listen when they see that a person is willing to volunteer their time to help”.
Since 2005 there has been many success stories and the participants’ admit it themselves. Martin says, “if it wasn’t for Mary (mentor) I don’t know what I’d have done, I’d probably be inside now”. Lisa says “mentoring is the best thing that has ever happened to me.” It’s not just the teenagers who have a positive experience, Matthew Doyle a mentor in Waterford feels “the experience of being a mentor has had a really positive impact on me”.
A common trend in many of the teenagers involved is an unstable family background. Le Cheile tries to help with this also by offering mentoring to parents faced with the challenges and stresses of having a child on probation. A parent mentor, again an unpaid volunteer over the age of 25, will meet regularly with the parent to offer support and guidance and discuss parenting issues.
Le Cheile has 3 projects in Dublin with places for 30 children and 15 parents. In the Laois/Waterford area they can work with 15 young people and 5 parents. In Cork they work with 20 children and 10 parents and in their Limerick project they have 10 places for teenagers and 10 for parents. They also have a restorative justice programme in Limerick to help offenders face the victims of their crimes. Anybody interested in volunteering can check out the website lecheile.ie
Le Cheile head office staff, Julia Alexander Mentoring Manager
Le Cheile participants’ and mentors with names changed to protect identity