As Fay Evans sees it, the challenge in redirecting troubled children is that there are more resources available after they go to court than before they get to that point.
For six years, Evans has run Star Mentoring, a business that tutors and provides counseling for Hartford young people ages 7 to 19 who are referred by child welfare officials.
Last week, 65 of her students participated in a play — "Time for Healing" — at The Bushnell that drew an audience of 225. Many of the parents there enjoyed the rare occasion of seeing their children in a positive light, not in the shadow of a perturbed school principal or court officer.
Youth violence is in the spotlight again across the country. In Hartford, city leaders like to point to an overall 16 percent decrease in serious crimes in the first quarter of 2008. But shooting incidents are up 64 percent from the same period last year.
A new safe-street initiative is being put in place.
Across the country, there has been a lot of re-examination of how best to deal with at-risk students. Hundreds of millions of dollars have been invested in detention, only to see young offenders return to the community, scarred, hardened and labeled.
I wrote last Saturday about a group of Greater Hartford ministers who asked the governor to convene a special summit about youth violence in Connecticut cities. A violence-prevention program in Chicago — CeaseFire — was of particular interest to them. The organization, run by an expert on diseases in large populations, was treating youth violence as a mental disorder, not just as a crime.
Today, two events will speak to the heightened concern about youth violence and some solutions to curb the problem.
U.S. Rep. John Larson and Virginia Rep. Robert Scott are holding a public forum on youth violence in Hartford at 4 p.m. at Weaver High School. They'll be advocating for the Youth Promise Act — proposed federal legislation that would consolidate the most successful methods to deal with youth violence.
Federal money would be directed to organizations that use those proven strategies to reduce violence or that come up with their own successful formulas.
"All they need is to put some services and supports and different opportunities in the front end of their lives, instead of waiting until they get into trouble to get those opportunities," Evans said. "What works for us is the attention, the time-intensive, proactive prevention."
From 9:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. today at the state Capitol, the Child Health and Development Institute of Connecticut will present its two-year study of how more than 1,800 at-risk youth and those in the juvenile justice system responded to an in-home, family-based alternative treatment.
Best-practice models cut to the chase. Find out what works. Replicate them and adjust them for your population.
Boston and Cincinnati are trying a program in which police identify the most persistent hard-heads, bring them in for a talking-to about their criminal actions and offer alternatives, such as jobs and training programs.
"It's all about relationships," said Bob Rath, president and chief executive officer of Our Piece of the Pie, a Hartford organization that provides services for youths. "We've got to find a way to build relationships with these young kids, so they care. ... And it's possible to do."
Of course it is.
All it takes is collaboration, coordination — and, yes, money.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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