INNOVATIONS IN YOUTH DEVELOPMENT US POLICY


TESTIMONY OF THE NATIONAL LEAGUE OF CITIES INSTITUTE FOR YOUTH, EDUCATION, AND FAMILIES

 

 

PRESENTED BY JOHN CALHOUN, DECEMBER 7, 2005

 

 

BEFORE THE WASHINGTON DC PUBLIC ROUNDTABLE OF THE SPECIAL COMMITTEE ON THE PREVENTION OF YOUTH VIOLENCE

 

AT A HEARING ON

INNOVATIONS IN YOUTH DEVELOPMENT POLICY, PRACTICE AND PROGRAMMING

 

COUNCILMEMBER VINCENT C. GRAY, CHAIR


 

Chairman Gray, it is a delight seeing you again.  I am honored to be here and commend you heartily on your commitment to this initiative, as well as the able staff work of Jason Keene.

 

I am John Calhoun, testifying today on behalf of the National League of Cities’ (NLC), Institute for Youth, Education, and Families (the YEF Institute).

 

I recently retired as the founding President and CEO of the National Crime Prevention Council, which I ran for almost 21 years.  Prior to that, I was appointed by President Carter to serve as United States Commissioner of the Administration for Children, Youth and Families and Chief of the Children’s Bureau.  I came to Washington from Massachusetts where I served the State as Commissioner of the Department of Youth Services.

 

NLC is the nation’s oldest and largest national organization representing municipal governments, with 1600 member cities and 49 state municipal leagues throughout the US.  D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams completes his term as NLC president on Saturday, December 12th.

 

The YEF Institute is an “action tank” within NLC that helps municipal leaders take action on behalf of children, youth and families in their communities.  The YEF Institute is a national resource, providing guidance and assistance to municipal officials, compiling and disseminating information on promising strategies and best practices, building networks of local officials working on similar issues, and conducting research on key challenges facing municipalities.  This month marks the fifth anniversary of the YEF Institute.  Over the past five years, the YEF Institute has received $10 million in foundation funding, which it has used to support hundreds of cities across America.

 

The safety of children and youth is a core program area of the Institute, recently buttressed by focused attention on the millions of older, disconnected youth who are concentrated in larger cities such as the District of Columbia. 

 

I have brought a number of publications with me today, and am pleased to leave them with your committee staff.

                                

The task you have set for yourselves is broad, ambitious, noble and very, very tough.

 

Single policy and single program innovations will make a dent in reengaging vulnerable youth, but only a total commitment from the entire city — parents, government, civic entities, community and faith-based organizations—will make a significant and enduring difference in the lives of potential victims, victimizers and frightened community members.  This type of comprehensive effort requires not just a couple of policies or programs, but a wide-scale campaign and a changed way of doing business.

 

The YEF Institute’s research provides a hopeful example in San Jose, California’s Gang Prevention Task Force has produced a dramatic diminution in crime, violence and commitments of youth to the California Youth Authority.  Interestingly, the project began as a city-wide initiative driven by fear and focused primarily on restrictive prevention and enforcement strategies.  “Project Neighborhood Crackdown” has now evolved into a city-wide youth reinvestment strategy, appropriately named, “Reclaiming our Youth.”  In another promising example, San Diego’s Juvenile Justice Coordinating Council collaborated with the city-wide Children’s Initiative, implementing innovative strategies to achieve these stunning results:  

·      90% of foster care youth were reunified

·      Family reunification rose from 20 to 60%

·      25% of foster care youth were adopted and 8% were appointed a guardian. 

·      New foster care cases shrank from 2500 to 1700 per year. 

·      The juvenile justice system reduced the population at the local Juvenile Hall by one-third. Juvenile court activity was cut in half. 

Reducing the emphasis on out-of-home placement saved the county $1.6 million in just 50 cases.

 

While at the National Crime Prevention Council (NCPC), I helped to launch two major initiatives that produced significant reductions in crime and, perhaps more importantly, a shift in the community ethos.

 

Community Responses to Drug Abuse, or CRDA, aimed to reduce crime and improve community life in ten tough, crime-ridden neighborhoods across the nation—neighborhoods where people were too poor to flee from crime.  NCPC built CRDA on four pillars, asking participating groups to:

Define their community geographically—the area of desired impact such as an apartment complex, several square blocks around a school, or public housing unit. Set up a task force of key community entities:  police, school, member of the faith community, resident associations, municipal zoning authorities, and local businesses. Establish short term goals such as closing a crack house or reclaiming a neighborhood park from drug pushers and users. Set a long term goal such as reducing teen pregnancy, decreasing the high school drop out rate, or providing transportation to jobs.  Though the reduction of crime and violence were key measures of success for the National Crime Prevention Council, we did not discount quality of life measures, such as recovering neighborhood parks from drug pushers and users, increasing housing values, and creating safe paths to area schools.

 

These were not comprehensive, city-wide reforms, but in each of these neighborhoods crime dropped and the quality of life improved.  The National Crime Prevention Council published the results in the document Creating a Climate of Hope, which I am pleased to leavewith you today.  

 

In close collaboration with then-Attorney General Janet Reno, the National Crime Prevention Council expanded the model, applying it to entire cities.  In each of these cities, from the seven largest in Texas to 16 other cities across the nation, crime didn’t drop, it plummeted. Among the many ingredients for success, three were absolutely essential:

·        A city and community-wide task force chaired by the mayor and police chief

·        The development of specific, measurable commitments (e.g., schools instituting after school programs; faith-based organizations training mentors; police opening precincts in public housing units)

·        Monthly meetings to insure accountability, measure progress and maintain momentum

 

Results of these successful city-wide initiatives are captured in NCPC’s document Six Safer Cities.

 

Based upon this initiative, expert experience and case studies of eight cities, the Institute has isolated five tested and effective strategies and is currently formulating these strategies into a publication.  The five proven strategies for lowering crime and increasing youth engagement are:

 

Frequent, Intensive Personal Contact

Boston’s Cease Fire and Philadelphia’s Youth Violence Reduction Project serve as good examples.  Cease Fire combines intense focus on the most violent offenders and the seamless provision of help to offenders.  Police, probation officers and ministers patrolled city streets together, making late-night visits to homes of the city’s most troubled youth. These teams paired firm, uncompromising expectations with passionate, extraordinary help. These are not opposing concepts—limit setting and support.  For almost three years following the introduction of Cease Fire, Boston recorded no homicides by teens.  ZERO.  And these were volatile teens, teens who had seen much, who had experienced many difficulties: Most of the youth had witnessed violence, had been in trouble at school, had few marketable skills, some had been abandoned, most feared adult relationships, and many had mental and physical health problems.  In some ways the limit setting – enforcement – is not hard: the provision of effective help is.

 

There is a corollary to the first point and it is a critical one that is not often talked about — isolation. This should be a separate point written in bold.  Isolation — disconnection from those entities that shape us such as family, neighborhood, school and future— can frighten and kill.  When serving as Commissioner of the Department of Youth Services in Massachusetts, a juvenile murderer said something to me I will never forget, “Commissioner, I’d rather be wanted for murder than not wanted at all.” Si Johnson, a Native American from Sells, Arizona, who works with tough kids, describes the shooter from Red Lake, Minnesota, this way, “He was outside the circle.  Being outside the circle is death.”  Police Chief Jim Bueerman from Riverside, Calif. clashed with the city’s mayor over whether to build a shelter for returning offenders and homeless citizens. While the mayor’s philosophy is to exclude the “bad,” Chief Bueerman stood firm in his opinion, “It’s not one side of the fence bad and the other side good.  The mayor thinks she can fence off the bad people. It doesn’t work that way.  That’s what the mayor doesn’t understand.  We’re in it together.”  

 

So many of our policies would further isolate. We must protect ourselves and our communities by keeping violence off area streets, but we seem to do so by further isolating our young people.  What is our promise to youth?  To the extent that public policy is a promise, we have given young people shelter, education, schooling and health care for $50,000—in jail.  Is this our only promise to the next generation?  Crime creates fear, and fear further isolates.  Fear has shaped our message to kids that, “We are ready for you.  We know you will be bad.”  Why do we predict and prepare for our young people to fail?  Why do we stand by until that long-anticipated failure happens and then bemoan our investment in the prison system and other hugely expensive responses, as opposed to investing in, let’s say, school systems, some of which graduate an appallingly low 50% of their students.  A great deal of policy is forged in hysteria, in the crucible of fear.  Former Texas Attorney General Dan Morales has celebrated the fact that 997 kids out of 1,000 are okay, good, or wonderful.  But who drives public policy?  The remaining three. Why do we allow a minority to dictate what we do?

 

We’re winning a worldwide competition whose trophy none of us wants: we lock up roughly 700 people per 100,000, while Canada, the closest country to us, locks up about 150 people, and Holland and Japan fewer than 50 each.  Despite our much higher incarceration rates, residents of these countries feel safer than we do.  

 

We must do that which is counter-intuitive — work through our fear and myths and make every effort to include and assist the aberrant and the hardened.  We must include them in our social contract. The toughest of tough work is relationship building, especially with the wounded and the wounders.  They fear relationships because past relationships have hurt.  They do not feel worthy of relationships. We must go toward these youth, not push them away.

 

A way to achieve the proven strategy of “frequent, intensive personal contact,” is community-oriented policing–police officers in store fronts, public housing, and schools as school resource officers.  I’m not talking about an occupying force.  I am talking about enforcement, relationship builders and role models.  In Burlington, North Carolina, the police department needed an additional training facility and couldn’t afford one.  The elementary school had available space.  The principal of the school offered the space to the police chief in exchange for a commitment that each law enforcement trainee would serve as a mentor to her school’s most troublesome children.  Not only did incidents in the school almost stop, but the kids bonded with the graduating officers as surrogate parents.

 

 Related to this point is the establishment of community-based services for offenders and ex-offenders.  The Department of Youth Services in Massachusetts, which I ran as Commissioner, was reputed to have one of the most effective juvenile systems in the country — a system that boasted 24 discrete categories of services, including at home services, three levels of foster care, four types of group care, and various levels of secure care, to name a few.  We built a system of community-based services, but if I had the opportunity to do it again, I would also craft a system of community-based relationships.

 

These services and relationships work to build youth resilience, the characteristic that allows certain kids to make it against the odds.  While academicians have developed a list 40 resiliency factors, I boil them down to five:

           

            –A locus of control.

Youth do not feel like pawns in the hands of fate.  They have a goal and recognize that their success or failure is in their own hands.

           

–A skill.

Whether it be playing the violin, wrestling, or running a meeting, youth who can point to a skill feel confident in their abilities and secure about themselves.

           

–An adult who is always there.

No matter how severe the existential tornado becomes, youth must have a trusted, dependable adult who supports them through it.

           

–Optimism.

Whether defined in a secular way (“I have hope for the future.”) or theologically (“I am held in His hand.”), youth must feel that the future is bright.                     

           

–Altruism.

Believing “I am my brother’s keeper” or “I am my sister’s keeper” gives young people a sense of responsibility for other beyond themselves.

 

Citywide Strategies with a Focus on “Hot Spots”

Make your campaign city-wide in scope, enlisting all aspects and areas of the community, but focus on your “hot spots.”  Boston’s newly created Comprehensive Community Safety Initiative is concentrated in selected neighborhoods as is Philadelphia’s Youth Violence Reduction Project and San Francisco’s “Seven Street Corners” program. The spread of information, of mapping your geographic area according to several indices—crime, high school drop out rates, welfare use statistics—helps to focus resources and citizen and governmental effort. The YEF Institute will be happy to provide more detailed information on the work of the cities I have referenced.

 

Social Norms

Cities must support the development or nurturing of social norms, of civic behavior.  The government cannot solve the youth violence issue alone.  Liz Glazer, former assistant U.S. Attorney for Crime Control Strategies in New York City, said she is willing and able to prosecute people and send the guilty to jail, but is disheartened when she sees them coming back in the system again and again, and sees new people taking their places on the street.  She told me, “I intend to help citizens build a community that is resistant to crime so that I don’t have to keep returning as a prosecutor.” If we are to lick this problem, the government must change how it does business and citizens must change how they live their lives. 

 

Tony Earls at the Harvard School of Public Health, Robert Sampson and other researchers in the Project on Human Development in Chicago Neighborhoods compared neighborhoods in terms of social, economic and demographic traits, as well as crime rates.  It became clear that those communities with high rates of “collective efficacy,” experienced lower crime rates, regardless of their social and economic makeup.  This verifies what common sense tells us — a community in which neighbors care about each other and are actively involved with various civic entities such as schools and police, is a safer neighborhood.  Earls found stunning anomalies: in places where data suggested that crime should be high, he discovered, because of “collective efficacy,” low rates of crime.

 

In Winston Salem, North Carolina, the U.S. Attorney instituted a program called “Notification Sessions.”  In these sessions, an offender returning from prison to the community meets with probation workers, parole officers and a member of the community.  I was privileged to attend one of these sessions, during which an older African American woman addressed a heavily-muscled, heavily-tattooed prisoner saying, “You’re the reason I can’t shop.  You’re the reason I can’t sit on my porch on hot nights. You’re the reason my grandson can’t ride his tricycle on the street.  If you cross the line, I’m reporting you and you’re going right back to jail.  But I’m here to help you too.  Call me any time day or night.  I’ll be there for you.”  She wrote her phone number on a piece of paper and slid it to him across the table.   Here again we see the twinning of limit-setting and caring.

 

Engage Young People in Transition

Establish methods that engage young people whose transitions to adulthood are most difficult, those who might turn to violence, and those who might become victims.  I refer to the need to have in place a solid plan and set of programs for young people re-entering from juvenile justice and foster care settings.  Both groups need strategies that attend to “multiple domains”—housing, school to work transition, work habits, financial management and relationships.

 

Reduce Availability of Instruments of Violence

Reduce the availability of potential instruments of violence—guns, highly concentrated liquor stores, drugs.  Are we inherently more violent as a people?  I think not. It bothers me greatly when other nations suggest that we Americans are somehow more evil or more violent because of our murder rates.  We are not a different species.  But when overwhelming anger, depression or fear hits, the results can be very different if fists or knives are available as opposed to guns.  Kids don’t come out of the womb with Uzis.  Compare crime statistics between Seattle, Washington, and Vancouver, British Columbia, just a few hours up the road.  The demographic and economic similarities are striking—Pacific rim economies, watching much the same television.  The cities’ crime rates are almost identical until one examines violence by guns and Seattle leaps ahead.  Actually our crime rates for non-lethal crimes—robbery, burglary, simple assault—are lower, in some cases much lower, than the West’s major cities—Berlin, London, Paris, Amsterdam.  For lethal crimes, however, we lead by a large margin.

 

The city’s role is central, and that is why I commend you so heartily on your initiative, Chairman Gray.  The work both of NCPC and NLC confirm that implementation must take into consideration five tactical points:

First, the mayor must lead, chair meetings, and hold the bureaucracy accountable,  while convincing, cajoling, and persuading others to join—business leaders, members of the faith community, parents, and the media to name a few. Two, cross-system collaboration is a necessity:  one “system” won’t do it. Education, though usually the toughest to get aboard, is a must.  That’s where most of the kids and adults who know vulnerable youth are. Three, the need for a city department or designated organization to serve as an intermediary — to bridge gaps, hold and disseminate knowledge, staff the collaboration, and help plan new initiatives. Four, good data systems, data sharing and tracking of progress. Five, a campaign that doesn’t let anyone off the hook.  Everyone can and must do something.  I am happy to leave with you a copy of Making Children, Families, and Communities Safer from Violence, which contains tips and a dozen recommended actions that each of six groups such as parents, students, schools, can take to prevent violence.

 

Time does not permit me to get into detail, detail I’m happy to share at a later time, but, I want to share with you a few tips on getting started:

Form both an executive-level “advisory group” and a staff-level “technical team.” Gather data to understand trends e.g. who’s leaving what system, where they are going, progression to postsecondary education, etc. Assess strengths, resources and needs.  Find out what services are available for youth, what is or should be in place, what is known about the quality of services, what and where the gaps are, whether the systems coordinate and share resources, and whether you make it easy for service providers via common intake forms, common RFP’s, clear expectations, etc. Get the media in back of you, agreeing to issue a weekly or at least periodic report on the progress of your work.  Remember, it’s a campaign!  The media can help make a community look like a war zone or a place where people want to live and raise kids. Get community entities in back of you, participating as shirt-sleeve partners. Celebrate successes.

 

Again, in the interest of time, I have concentrated on strategies/principles and tactics, avoiding citation of specific programs that do work primarily because I don’t want you to feel that there is a single silver bullet or that one program will save us.  While success is based on comprehensive, collaborative efforts, there are many programs that work and work well such as pre and after-school initiatives, Boys and Girls Clubs, Big Brothers, Big Sisters, multi-systemic therapy, Nurse Family Partnership, Parent-Child Centers and many more.

 

Two closing thoughts: First, we’ve got to stop viewing kids as hunks of pathology ready to explode.  Our policies for youth tend to cluster in two areas: control and repair, each of which, at some time, we may need.  But the opposite of disconnection, of isolation is reconnection, passionate reconnection.  We must ask youth to help, to be part of us, to invite them in as part of the solution.  There are three ways of formulating this:

Civic. We want youth to be signatories of the social contract, positive actors in society.  Service learning, community service and restitution serve as program examples Psychological.  Positive bonding to the community Theological. “I am my brother’s/sister’s keeper.”

 

Various programs can help wed kids positively to the community.  The National Crime Prevention Council’s program Youth as Resources program asks youth to identify social issues about which they are concerned and then design a project to address those concerns.  Almost 500,000 youth of all types—from honor society students headed for the best colleges to high school dropouts caught up in the criminal justice system—have been involved.  Said one youth, a probationer named Earl, “It’s the first time in my life I’ve ever been thanked.”  Dorothy Stoneman’s stunningly successful Youth Build program has seen more than 40,000 at-risk youth learn marketable construction skills while building more than 12,000 units of housing.

 

Finally, the need to claim the values, passion and energy of everyone, to elicit the best and most courageous in each and every one of us.  Public policy does not get us up in the morning—our core values and beliefs do.

 

Policies do not explain Mattie Lawson, who lost two of her children to gang violence.  As a father of two, I cannot imagine a more horrible pain.  But Mattie was not destroyed by her staggering grief.  Instead she turned to action, saying, “I no longer have two children.  I have four hundred.  Not one more child in my neighborhood will die.”  Why did she not fold up in her grief?

 

I began my work probably by accident, having been swept up in the civil rights movement by Martin Luther King, Jr almost 40 years ago.  I believe that if King had begun with policy, he would have failed.  The policy changes that stream from his work dazzle:  Head Start, Job Corps, and such monumental laws as the Voting Rights and Civil Rights Acts.

 

But he didn’t begin there.  He began with a passionate moral commitment.  His framing was Exodus—escape from slavery, wandering in the desert, a view of the Promised Land, a dream of equality.  Unheard of!  Madness — perhaps hold madness.  But the story found itself in every living room and every heart.  Everyone who has lived has experienced some injustice, some pain, and some desert.  The story of Exodus brought us all in.

 

So while we hold the language of policy as precious, we must be unafraid of another glossary, perhaps the oldest, lurking just beneath the surface in all of us.

 

Time constraints permit me to refer only to one word in that glossary, “naming,” or better, “naming and claiming.” 

 

While serving as President and CEO of the National Crime Prevention Council, I was privileged to sit on Attorney General Janet Reno’s Coordinating Council on Juvenile Justice.  One of our meetings was help in a junior high school here in the District.  One presenter, a minister, described what his church was doing: Head Start, mentoring, family counseling, after-school programs.  He concluded: “We also go out on the streets and simply get to know the kids by name.”  He said this almost off-handedly, casually, at the end of his presentation.  I was stunned.  How wonderful, how powerful!  For underneath the bravado of many kids, we find the ache, the loneliness, the pain of not being claimed, not being loved by anyone.

 

How simple, but how basic to be called by name.  This evokes the God of Genesis, the God who names.  It is parental.  We name our kids.  It is love; it is protection—“you are mine.”  There is wonderful social policy and theology to be found in Isaiah: “Oh Israel fear not: for I have redeemed thee, I have called thee by name; thou art Mine.”

 

How many kids out there are unclaimed, are a-nomic, without name or whose names appear only on truancy lists, delinquency lists, and police blotters?  I am reminded of Erin Jacoba, a young woman who spoke at my retirement ceremony over a year ago.  Erin had served time at the Indiana Girls School.  While still an inmate, she joined the Youth as Resources program and worked with young women who had severe cases of cerebral palsy.  Erin said to me once:  “Jack, you don’t know what it was like to have these kids throw open their arms and welcome me.  It’s the first time anybody had called my name positively.”  To be there for someone else, to claim that person as important in your world is essential.

 

As a core challenge to each of us, Gene Rivers, director of Boston’s 10-Point Coalition, is fond of quoting a notorious drug dealer: “I’m there for my guys 24-7.  I’m there day and night, rain or shine.  You people go home at 5:00.”  The drug dealer’s challenge is eminently clear: Who IS there to claim our youth, especially those who are not particularly lovable?

 

I conclude.  We have got to stop the trouble and release hope.  Tanika Riley lived in the Robert Taylor Homes, probably the most violent of Chicago’s public

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