Empowering young people for a more productive life
Keith O’Driscoll, Project Leader at Kilmore West Youth Project, talks about how EU funding has allowed them to support young people to achieve personal growth.
Kilmore West Youth Project is part of an independent network of youth justice workers, the Youth Justice Independent Network. This community-based organisation provides a range of programmes designed to help young people who are known to the Gardaí, become positive contributors to their communities. This is all funded by the Department of Justice and the European Union, through the ESF+.
Keith O’Driscoll has been working for the Kilmore West Youth Project in Dublin for the past five years on the Kilmore Empowering Every Person (KEEP) Project. Louise Smith is the Service Manager of Kilmore West Youth Project, and it is supported by the voluntary Board of Management and Directors.
Keith says the KEEP Project works with young people aged 12-18 within the Kilmore West, Coolock and Darndale areas.
“There is generally a welfare issue behind young people who offend,” says Keith. “It’s our role to support and deter young people from anti-social and criminal behaviour, using a welfare-focused approach. We look at their background, their family, education, peer groups, and what kind of activities they’re involved in and try to help them make positive changes.”
One of the key areas where Keith and the other project leaders work with young people is education.
“In formal education, we identify career supports and guidance, pathways to develop skills, and identify employment opportunities or mentorships. In informal education, we support personal growth and mental health, deliver drug and alcohol programmes, and sexual health education programmes.
“These help young people make better choices when they’re in difficult situations, and are incredibly important to have.”
In 2022, six of the Network’s Youth Justice Projects worked collaboratively to support 13 young people achieve the Gaisce Bronze Award (The President’s Award).
To achieve the Bronze Award, all the young people engaged in 13-week programmes in three areas: Personal Development, Physical Development, and Community Engagement. They then completed an additional 13 weeks in one challenge area of their choice. As part of the programme, they had to engage in a 24km hike over two days at Cavan Centre in October 2022. All 13 participants achieved their Gaisce Bronze Awards.
One of the young people who earned a Bronze Award is 16-year-old Tiegh McKeon. Keith says Tiegh came to the Project in 2019 and since then has achieved “growth and development at Kilmore”.
Keith says, “This last year Tiegh has gone from strength to strength. He won the Bronze Award and has now enrolled in the Young Community Leadership Programme (YCM).
“He will be graduating in December with a Level 6 qualification in Youth Leadership and Community Action from NUI Galway. He has even become a mental health advocate for a national organisation. His journey has been phenomenal and he’s an admirable young man with a bright future.”
Keith says he’s incredibly proud of the relationships he has developed with Tiegh and with all the young people on the project. There is even evidence-based research from the University of Limerick suggesting the relationship between young people and the Youth Justice Workers is the best thing about these projects.
“Getting to see a young person achieve so much makes me so proud to have worked with Tiegh. When young people come to the project, they’re not coming for positive reasons. But this gives me a push to continue to do the work, because you get to see the results.”
But without the EU support, Keith says these projects would never have got off the ground. “The Department of Justice and the ESF+ fund the project and pay to have Youth Justice Workers. There are also Family Support Workers who work with the families of the young people and early intervention support too for young people before they hit the age of criminal responsibility to help direct them to a more productive life.
I am also Project Leader for a newly funded project, covering the Belmayne/Clongriffin catchment area. So many areas desperately need these supports and ESF+ funding helps provide them.”