Addressing Youth Violence
It Takes a Community
Youth violence is a public health issue because of its far-reaching impact on secondary victims, neighborhoods, towns, and society at large. The most successful strategies for addressing the issue have been those that involve a strong, supportive community network of educational and religious institutions, healthcare providers, parenting support, social services, law enforcement, and programs that offer children alternatives to being on the street and having to survive by the “code of the street.”
It is widely accepted that factors contributing to youth violence include early childhood abuse of all kinds, poverty, and the absence of emotional attachment to adults. Children depend on adults to provide safe and supportive environments; when those are missing, kids learn to adapt and fill the gaps in their lives. They develop their own social system: the street gang fills in as a place to “belong” with people who care - who will “watch your back.” It becomes the social norm to be tough and “take care of yourself.”
While youth violence is not our main focus, The Home for Little Wanderers does work to prevent the breakdown of children’s safety nets and, when that is not possible, to fill those gaps in their lives. Every one of our programs has the potential to mitigate some of the risk factors for youth violence. Our home-based family support programs and our work in community clinics, schools and hospitals all strive to keep families together and create positive environments. Our residential programs provide the children with a place to belong on a temporary basis, a supportive environment that engenders belief in themselves and trust in others, and the tools to achieve their full potential. In all cases, each time we have an opportunity to improve the life of a child, we have played a small part in giving that child different options.
The Home recognizes a number of local groups as leaders in addressing youth violence issues, including the Department of Public Health Youth Violence Prevention Coalition and the High Risk Youth Network, established as a collaboration between community partners: the Black Ministerial Alliance, United Way of MA Bay, Emmanuel Gospel Center, and the Boston Ten Point Coalition. The Home supports the efforts of these organizations and we encourage other groups and individuals to get involved in making the prevention of youth violence a true community endeavor.