Encouraging teenagers to be more active in their schools and communities is the key to preventing youth crime.

That’s the word from last week’s Wyndham Youth Forum, which brought together police, government departments, support agencies, community organisations, schools and young people for a day-long event to discuss how best to engage young people.

The event, at Encore Events Centre in Hoppers Crossing, was hosted by former AFL player and Whitelion co-founder Glenn Manton. It explored issues, barriers and challenges facing young people and potential solutions.

Victoria Police north-west metro division Superintendent Therese Fitzgerald said availability and accessibility of services, language barriers facing parents and one-size-fits-all approaches had been identified as common problems faced by young people and their families.

She said key opportunities included getting young people to contribute positively to the community by volunteering; forging connections between young people and employers; and removing barriers to participation, such as removing hurdles to help kids join sports and other clubs.

“We do know that young people are represented in crime across the board, and we want to make sure we’re preventing that at the earliest stage possible, and when young people do make a mistake, or they are brought to our attention, they’re held accountable for what they’re doing but we also get the services that they need so that they don’t reoffend,” Superintendent Fitzgerald said.

“The kids talked about the importance of being encouraged. We all make mistakes, but let’s encourage people to get back on the right track.”

A young person who spoke at the event, currently completing a double degree at university, said he often felt pre-judged by others based on bad behaviour from other African youths.

“I feel judged every day … it really pushes you down when you’re trying to rise up,” he said.

“Especially when I was younger, there was a lot of implicit racism.”

Senior Sergeant Jason Templar said police and support services might need to place their focus on pre-teens and early teens to engage them and prevent crime.

“We do some early intervention work with schools and with the community,” he said.

“I think we could probably do a lot more in that preventative space rather than the reactive space.”

The Wyndham Youth Forum is the first of many regional youth forums Victoria Police will conduct across the state in a bid to tackle youth crime.

It is expected community initiatives will be developed based on contributions made at the forums.