An interdisciplinary team led by educators at Rutgers University is studying whether tailored success plans and specially designed after-school activities can prevent at-risk youngsters in Newark, N.J., from engaging in violent behavior.
Supported by a $175,000 grant from the Office of the New Jersey Attorney General, Rutgers faculty and local community partners, social services, medical and mentoring agencies are developing individualized success plans to change the attitudes and outlooks of 50 middle school youngsters in the citys highest crime areas, according to a news release. The plans will include provisions for physical and mental health treatment and focus on school attendance, mentoring, parental education and support, after-school activities and career exploration.
With youth violence you cant have Band-Aids, said Felesia Bowen, PhD, RN, APN-BC, assistant professor and director of the Center for Urban Youth and Families at the Rutgers School of Nursing, which received the grant. The Band-Aids are not working. We are still having problems. We need to get down to the root causes.
Newark has the most crime, both violent and nonviolent, among all New Jersey municipalities, according to the most recent New Jersey Uniform Crime Report. Of 114 strong arm crimes (involving the use of hands and fists) recorded in Newark from January through September of 2014, 40 were reported as juvenile offenses, committed by 10- to 17-year-olds. Of 110 crimes involving firearms, 20 were reportedly committed by juveniles.
The pilot project, known as Brick City Synergy, addresses youth violence as if it were a public health disease.
Youth violence affects all facets of society, Bowen said in the release. People are dying and children are going to jail. In healthcare, when we find a problem, we develop a treatment plan. Weve said these youngsters need success plans. Lets develop them.
The initiative intends to demonstrate that by channeling youngsters and parents energies toward positive outcomes, the youngsters, ages 9 to 14, will learn to avoid mimicking criminal and violent behavior theyve often observed in their neighborhoods.
Were not trying to become their parents, but to provide the tools and resources to strengthen parenting, said Kenneth Karamichael, director of Rutgers Transitional Education and Employment Management Gateway, who is co-directing Brick City Synergy with Bowen. Were interested in connecting their positive energies.
Karamichael, whose TEEM organization has helped approximately 7,500 at-risk youths, judges success with disconnected, floundering teens by their level of engagement in activities and friendships that can deter them from violent behavior.
We want to teach each of them to ask themselves every day, How am I going to fill my day?, and share their responses with their families so that they can understand how that might impact positive or negative behavior, he said in the release.
The Brick City Synergy project will rely on teachers, community leaders, police and parents to recommend youths who have significant absenteeism records or behavioral issues. After they are assessed, each youngster, along with parents or guardians, will receive an individualized plan, including such goals as no unexcused school absences or police encounters, participation in an after-school mentoring program and using a family community resources guide, which Karamichael is developing using the TEEM model.
Brick City Synergy is being managed by the Center for Urban Youth and Families. Bowen will head the projects health and research components.