End Youth Violence
Early exposure to violence is an inescapable part of growing up for too many young people. Some are directly involved as victims or perpetrators. Others carry around the memory of a shooting or fight they witnessed first hand. Many more are affected by the stories they hear at school or from having known a classmate who has been killed. While the levels of exposure to violence may vary, the resulting fear and anxiety can be traumatic, long lasting and pervasive.
Following an uptick of violence in 2010-2011, New Haven City Police has deployed an innovative strategy for disrupting the social networks most responsible. And city officials and community-based groups are addressing the underlying causes of violence by investing in pro-social programs for youth.
Most places in Greater New Haven are safe and the region as a whole has violent crime rates similar to or below the statewide average of 3 crimes per 1,000 residents per year1. But rates are significantly higher in a handful of New Haven neighborhoods. About 75% of the violent crimes in New Haven are committed in neighborhoods that make up about 20% of the city’s area2.
Assault, primarily with a gun, is the leading cause of death for New Haven young men ages 15 – 393. From 2008 to 2012, 75% of the homicide victims were Black and 14% were Hispanic4.
Responses on a survey taken in 2010 by middle school youth5 in New Haven indicate that their level of involvement in and exposure to violence is significant:
- 34% reported having seem someone get shot or stabbed
- 17% reported having been involved in gang fights
- 11% reported having carried a gun/weapon
- 24% reported having hurt someone badly in a physical fight
- 54% reported having started a fistfight or shoving match
More recent statistics show that New Haven is making progress in reducing gun violence. A peak in 2011 of 34 homicides and 133 non-fatal shootings dropped to 13 homicides and 60 non-fatal shootings in 20146.
Children who live in violent neighborhoods risk developing developmental disorders because of anxiety and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Because they learn by example, children exposed to violence may come to believe it is a justified way of dealing with conflict and are at an increased risk of displaying aggressiveness and a distrust of adults7.
Chronic violence also creates widespread feelings of fear which corrode the basic building blocks of a community. Among New Haven’s low-income neighborhoods, between 67 and 77 percent of adults do not feel safe walking their streets at night8. When people are afraid to go for casual walks and parents are reluctant let their kids play on the sidewalks or at local parks or playgrounds, the social and physical health of an entire neighborhood weakens.
In addition, businesses and companies are unlikely to open in neighborhoods where violence is prevalent.
Addressing Risk Factors
Neither violence nor exposure to it is random. The highest rates of violent crime are concentrated in the most impoverished and racially isolated neighborhoods that suffer from disinvestment, community deterioration and a preponderance of firearms. On an individual level, risk factors include truancy, illiteracy and academic failure, experiencing and/or witnessing violence, negative family dynamics, alcohol and other drug use, and a history of incarceration.
Risk factors do not, however, inevitably cause an individual to be a perpetrator or victim. Research has shown that protective or resilience factors can mitigate the environmental conditions that put individuals and communities at a high risk for violence9.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) treats youth violence as a matter of public health. Similar to the way the medical profession emphasizes healthy eating, exercise and other preventive measures to fight chronic diseases, the national initiative STRYVE (Striving to Reduce Youth Violence Everywhere) works to stop violence before it starts.
This model identifies primary prevention strategies that everyone needs for healthy development and building resilience. These include:
- positive early care and education
- positive social and emotional development
- parenting skills
- quality after-school programming
- conflict resolution
- youth leadership
- quality education (including universal school-based violence prevention strategies)
- social connections in neighborhoods
- economic development
Secondary prevention strategies that reduce the chances that at-risk youth become involved in violence include:
- mental health services
- family support services
- conflict interruption and street outreach
Tertiary prevention strategies address the consequences of violence after it has occurred in order to reduce the chances it will reoccur. These include:
- mental health services
- successful re-entry
- substance abuse treatment
Prevention Strategies In New Haven
While violence prevention work has a long history in New Haven, city and community leaders intensified their efforts following a dramatic spike in homicides and shootings in 2010 and 2011.
Launched in 2012 with the assistance of David Kennedy, director of the Center for Crime Prevention and Control at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, Project Longevity identifies networks of youth who are involved in gun violence. New Haven police work with federal and state prosecutors to begin building cases against the targeted individuals, who are then invited to a "call in" with both law-enforcement officials and social service agencies. At the "call in," the youth are offered a choice- accept help such as counseling, job-training and education, or face a federal prosecution with serious jail time if they or any associates are implicated in a violent crime.
By the end of 2014, Project Longevity had held six “call ins” with 164 youth10.
In an effort to reach kids before they resort to violence, a team of New Haven leaders from the school system, housing authority, police department, city youth program, probation office, and community agencies meet regularly to share information to identify youth at risk of being involved in violence and deliver the appropriate interventions.
National Center for Children Exposed to Violence Child Development-Community Policing Program
Started in 1991, this collaboration of mental health, law enforcement, juvenile justice, education, judicial and social service professionals works with children who have been traumatized by violence or tragedy. More than half of the children referred to the Child Development-Community Policing Program following domestic violence exposure are under 6 years old.
New Haven Street Outreach Worker Program
Since 2007, New Haven street outreach workers have been on the front lines mentoring youth and mediating disputes before they erupt in gun violence. Street outreach workers were themselves once involved in the criminal justice system, but they have since turned their lives around. This gives them the "street cred" to build trust with youth involved in crime so they can show them a better path.
The program operates in partnership with the New Haven Police Department and the Board of Education and focuses on young people ages 13 to 21.
The street outreach workers visit places where youth are known to gather, says Shirley Ellis-West, the program supervisor.
“They spend a lot of time doing what we call violence interruptions – young people involved in physical fights, arguments, adolescent behavior conflict. When there's an incident we go to the hospitals, we talk to the young people to prevent retaliation,” Ellis-West says.
Street outreach workers also conduct scheduled mediation sessions with two or more individuals. Early in the program, many of the referrals came from the police. More recently, West says, parents have been calling on behalf of their own children, and youth are referring themselves and their friends.
Voices of young people were brought to the issue with the community-based participatory research project, “Understanding Youth Violence in New Haven: A Photovoice Project with Youth of New Haven.” The research was a collaboration among the New Haven Family Alliance, the Robert Wood Johnson Clinical Scholars Program at Yale, and a group of youth participating in the street outreach worker program. The goal of the project was to help identify, through the eyes and voices of young people directly impacted by youth gun violence, the root causes and effects of youth gun violence in their lives and in the City of New Haven.
A report on the project summarizes the key findings and offers recommendations for action that include increasing youth career and employment opportunities, coordinated strategies to address concentrated inter-generational poverty and establishing neighborhood community centers in high risk neighborhoods.
Newhallville Safe Neighborhood Initiative
In 2014, the city received a $1 million U.S. Dept. of Justice grant to improve conditions and reduce the cycle of violence in the Newhallville neighborhood. The initiative plans to eliminate crime hot spots with community policing, reduce the number of youth caught up in violence and retaliation, strengthen community leadership, and reduce blight.
Mentoring in the Community
Many grassroots organizations are working to engage New Haven youth in positive activities. A partial list includes:
Gang of Dads, founded by Church on the Rock Pastor Todd Foster, trains mentors through New Haven Family Alliance. The mentors are then matched with youth who are referred to the Juvenile Review Board, an alternative to the criminal justice system for minors who have been arrested.
Ice the Beef organizes after-school and summer activities chosen by youth such as bowling, outings, basketball tournaments, and music events.
Guns Down Books Up organizes positive activities for young people and holds the annual Unity Youth Week in the summer.
The Frontline Souljaz work with young men 17 and older and hold a basketball tournament at West River Memorial Park called Hoopin' not Shootin'.
S.P.O.R.T. Academy is a mentoring program that teaches life skills through the game of chess.
The JWF Youth Foundation organizes events for youth and helps connect them to jobs and mentoring.
What The Community Foundation is Doing
The Community Foundation has a long history of funding youth programs and efforts to prevent youth violence.
Recent grants to programs that engage youth and/or work to reduce youth violence include:
- The Boys and Girls Club for New Haven, for general support of programs in the Hill Neighborhood clubhouse.
- Centro San Jose, to support bilingual programing for older teenagers in Fairhaven including: an afterschool program for high school students; a basketball team; mentoring services; an educational summer camp; and school-based youth programming at John Martinez School.
- The Center for Children’s Advocacy to reduce the disproportionate rate at which Black and Latino youth in New Haven are suspended, expelled and arrested at school.
- Citywide Youth Coalition, to support its advocacy and convening of area youth and youth serving organizations.
- Clifford W. Beers Guidance Clinic to support the Clinical Collaborative Consultation Project, which works with Greater New Haven youth-serving organizations to address children’s mental health needs.
- The Consultation Center, for the support of the The Youth Development Training & Resource Center (YDTRC), a training resource for staff of youth-serving organizations.
- Farnam Neighborhood House, to support a wide range of programming and camps that annually serve 3,000 low-income children and youth before and after school, evenings, weekends, and during the summer.
- Greater New Haven NAACP to support the Stop the Violence Campaign, which aims to end violence as it relates to gun and drug-related crime.
- New Haven Family Alliance for the City of New Haven’s Street Outreach Worker program and other programs to engage youth and reduce gun violence.
- Solar Youth for the "Green Jobs" internship program for teens in low-income neighborhoods.
- The New Haven YMCA Youth Center to support the Walk-in Program, a safe haven with recreational opportunities.
- Your Place Youth Center of St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church to support an alternative to gangs through teaching principles of non-violence, leadership, and other skills and engaging youth in more constructive activities.
- Youth Continuum to promote the well being of homeless and at-risk youth and provide them with skills necessary to take advantage of opportunities for a healthy and productive future.
1. Abraham, M, et al. Greater New Haven Community Index 2013.
New Haven, CT: DataHaven, 2013: 58.
5. 2559 7th and 8th graders (ages 12-15) participated in a survey that was part of an NIH-funded prevention program implemented in the NHPS Social Development Department in collaboration with the Yale Department of Pediatrics. The data are from the 2010 Student Health and Behavior Survey. School and district reports were prepared for the NHPS and distributed to district and school administrators. Permission to use the data for this brief was provided by Dee Speese-Linehan, Supervisor of the NHPS Social Development Program.
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