Point of View

Juvenile offender can change if given an opportunity, says the expert


Mira Antonyan

The Abovyan Rehabilitation Centre, set up by the Fund for Armenian Relief's (FAR)“Children support centre” has been operational since June 2011 in Abovyan town. It implements social rehabilitation programs for children in Abovyan town and nearby villages who are in difficult situation or  who had problems with the law.

The children are referred here by the police, boards of tutors and guardians, departments for children protection and schools.

“Our goal is to give a child an opportunity to reconsider his/her behavior and understand how his conduct affected the victim. In other words, we help them to analyze their conduct done in outburst and evaluate its consequences”, says Mira Antonyan, executive director of FAR's “Children support centre” foundation.

There are 35 children attending the Centre at this moment. Some of them are on the record at the police juvenile section, and a preventive work is conducted for the rest of them.  “We have 14-15 children referred here because they committed theft, 11 children were involved in fighting, 5 children were engaged in begging and 3 children dropped out of the education system or not attending school”, explains Alla Sargsyan, the director of the Abovyan rehabilitation centre.

Mira Antonyan believes that if a child violated social norms or laws, it means that he/she has unsolved problems, he/she has been not understood at home, school or in his/her surroundings. “The aim of the rehabilitation program is on the one hand, to help a child to understand the expectations of the surroundings of him/her, and on the other hand, to demonstrate to his/her surroundings how talented the child is and how much he/she can change if given an opportunity, and we give them that opportunity at the centre”, says Ms. Antonyan.

Three psychologists and social workers  mostly work with the children at the centre. According to the director of the centre, in addition, their team is supported by the staff of the psychological centre “Satar” (Support), community's commissions of tutors, department for children protection, the Abovyan Children Art Centre, and deputy directors of schools. However, the problem is that the society often is unprepared to accept these children.

“When somebody does something wrong, people immediately label him/her. The surroundings is not ready to understand, accept, see these children' problems as we do. The employers do not always trust these childrento hire them, and we do not ever conceal the truth and seek those employers, who, being aware of  the children' issues, are ready to take them and give an opportunity to change,” says Mira Antonyan.

The children attend the centre until specialists register positive results. But even after that the staff of the centre keep an eye on the life of the children.

A 17-year old son of Anna Poghosyan had attended the centre for two years. “The centre helped us immensely. I am very grateful that such a centre exists. The staff were like the second parents for my child, they were very caring. Now my Zhirayr is on a good track”, says Mrs. Poghosyan. Her son attended cooking course with the support of  the centre, and it has been four months now as he took a job in a restaurant. “He stopped attending the centre when he got employed, but he still keeps in touch with it,” says Ms. Poghosyan.

Aram Avetisyan has been attending the centre for four months. He  believes that the centre is much needed. “The centre assisted me to get education for free in the area I like, it helps other children too to get education. When we work with psychologists we feel ourselves important. I am very grateful for everything and would be happy if I set up a similar centre in the future”, says a 17-year old Aram.

He studies at the theater division of “ElMar” film studio and wants to become an actor.

The social worker Armine Sargsyan notes that the children like coming to the centre, and the parents are willing to cooperate with the specialists.

“It is difficult to work with such children if they don't trust you. But when a child and his/her family build up trust towards a social worker, a psychologist, the centre, then the work leads to success,” says the social worker and adds that in some cases it may take two weeks or half a year to build confidence.

An 11-year-old Artyom Hovhannisyan was referred to the centre by his school. He has been attending the centre for one year. “I like everything here, I like coming here. I learned here to listen to the elders, became more polite,” says Artyom. The centre assists him to take sport classes and he dreams to become a champion in judo.

The police also cooperate with the rehabilitation centre.

“The centre takes care of the occupation of the juveniles, and this changes the children' minds. In cooperation with the centre our work becomes more productive and is perceived positively by the children and their families. The children learn that the main task of the police is to secure that children do not turn delinquent. It is important for us that children perceive us as their elder friends”, says Hasmik Khachatryan, senior inspector at the Division on Juvenile Issues of the Kotayk police department. In her opinion, the centre helps children to understand the consequences of their conduct, which prevents them from doing similar actions in the future.

Armine Sargsyan says that they put an effort to build a positive attitude of the children toward the police, and see that change in children's attitude toward the inspectors. “When we visited children for the first time to monitor them, they were a bit confused, and fearful. But when we explained the purpose of the police and that if they were law-obedient and disciplined children, they would have no problems with the police, their reaction and attitude changed.”

Mira Antonyan, the executive director of FAR’s “Children Support Centre” foundation hopes that the centre in Abovyan will work on the Abovyan  municipality budget after 2013.

“When we come to the community with an issue, they always say: “we do not have any money or resources”. With this model we demonstrated that the thing does not always lay in money, you just need to have a willingness and enthusiasm,” believes the child rights expert.

The Abovyan Rehabilitation Centre was founded within the framework of “Promotion of modern concepts on implementation of juvenile justice in Armenia” program, implemented by the FAR “to Children Support Centre” in cooperation with Civil Society Institute and Penal Reform International.

Photo: www.hra.am

Author Մերի Ալեքսանյան
Source www.hra.am