Aug. 20-26, 1999

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Report outlines ways to prevent juvenile violence

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Report outlines ways to prevent juvenile violence

By Ida Lee Wootten

The potential for youth violence in Virginia can be reduced dramatically by standardizing intervention programs for students and juvenile offenders and sharing information about the most effective services, according to a statewide report released last month.

The report was prepared by faculty in the Virginia Youth Violence Project at the Curry School of Education, who completed an assessment of violence prevention programs statewide for the Center for Injury and Violence Prevention in the Virginia Department of Health. The report calls for a systematic and coordinated statewide effort to implement programs found effective in reducing youth violence, such as mentoring, bullying-reduction campaigns and conflict-resolution training.

The U.Va. researchers found that although there are a variety of violence prevention services and programs available throughout the state, there is little shared information about the success of such efforts. Even within state government, services in one department are often unknown to others in different divisions, say the researchers in the 130-page report titled, "Youth Violence Prevention in Virginia: A Needs Assessment."

To increase knowledge, the researchers propose regular meetings of directors of programs addressing youth violence. Such meetings would promote coordinated planning and joint program efforts, they say.

"The state could establish a central clearinghouse for planning and coordinating youth violence-prevention efforts," said Dewey G. Cornell, director of the Virginia Youth Violence Project. "There should be efforts, for example, to create an inter-agency group linking the Departments of Education, Criminal Justice Services, Juvenile Justice, Mental Health, Mental Retardation, Substance Abuse Services and Social Services together." Although there are numerous programs statewide that seek to reduce youth violence, many such efforts have no proven track record or firm evaluative procedures, the researchers found. Programs appear to be chosen because of cost, political popularity or philosophical appeal rather than documented effectiveness.

However, there are programs that have been found widely effective in reducing the potential for youth violence. The researchers call for the adoption of such programs, which include mentoring, bullying -- reduction campaigns, conflict resolution and after-school supervision. The report proposes implementing such programs at schools, in churches or through private non-profit agencies such as the YMCA and the Boys & Girls Clubs.

"Perhaps the most important message in the report is that there are effective means of preventing or reducing youth violence, but such programs must be held accountable for documenting their quality and effectiveness," Cornell said.

Because the most clearly identifiable group of youth likely to commit violent crimes are those who have been recognized by juvenile authorities as delinquents, the report recommends implementing violence-prevention programs for the thousands of youth incarcerated yearly in Virginia's 18 detention centers.

A limited number of free copies of the report can be obtained by contacting the Virginia Department of Health at (804) 225-4483. After that supply runs out, copies of the report can be purchased for $10 from the Virginia Youth Violence Project at 924-8929.

Improving efforts to stop youth violence


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