Teenagers in the Bay of Plenty are better equipped to deal with relationship issues and family harm thanks to a successful school-wide police intervention.
Students at a local high school are now actively seeking support for relationship and sexuality issues and have a clearer understanding of healthy relationships.
Sergeant Mike Owen, Officer in Charge of Youth Services in Bay of Plenty District, says former School Community Officer Senior Constable Sarah Mackenzie’s engagement with the school and wider community is a shining example of a partnership to prevent harm and increase public safety.
“We stand to benefit from an improved relationship between students and Police, which helps us build trust and confidence and create new opportunities for engagement,” says Mike.
Sarah – who has since left Police - worked with community and school leaders to identify that family harm was prevalent locally.
“Police data highlighted an average of 50 calls for service per month related to family harm,” says Sarah.
“Community leaders wanted to see change. School staff reported that student relationship issues were routinely interfering with learning and required support by the pastoral team.”
The school and Police agreed to a school-wide ‘Loves-Me-Not’ intervention, with the short-term goal of encouraging students to seek help and take action to promote healthy relationships within the school community.
“Longer-term, we aim to provide students at all levels with education about healthy, positive relationships,” says Sarah. “We want the school community to reflect the goals of the wider community through education, modelling and action.”
Loves-Me-Not is a healthy relationships programme developed in partnership with the Sophie Elliott Foundation.
It includes a workshop implemented by Police, the school and local NGOs to encourage students to explore aspects of relationships – identifying characteristics of successful relationships, and how they can be eroded through negative behaviour.
Sarah says Loves-Me-Not is far more than the one-day workshop people sometimes think it is.
The intent is that after the workshop, students will lead positive action to encourage safe relationships in their school and wider community – as in the case of the Bay of Plenty school, where the students established an action group to champion activities to promote healthy relationships.
“We know that for real behaviour change to occur, Loves-Me-Not has to be integrated into a wider ‘whole-school approach’ in which the entire school community, systems and environment support the students’ learning and foster genuine student-led action,” says Sarah.