general newsletter

Doing What Works in the Human Services Sector: A case study on effectively reducing youth violence and addressing trauma – Sector Leadership Spot

March 12, 2020

By Jeff Fleischer, Youth Advocate Programs

The National Human Service Assembly is a membership organization whose members reach almost every community in the nation through human services that address issues related to pre-school, after school, youth justice, child welfare, disabilities, senior citizens, poverty, education and disaster relief to name a few. At the National Assembly we believe that the answers or remedies for our nation’s most intractable social problems lie in the power of communities’ associations and their citizens.

One such example is a collaboration of nonprofits that are addressing youth violence on the South and West sides of Chicago. Choose to Change (C2C), is an anti-violence program in Chicago, where Youth Advocate Programs (YAP) is utilizing its wraparound advocacy model in partnership with Children Home and Aid providing evidence-based group Cognitive Behavioral Treatment designed to address trauma. The YAP Advocates (paid mentors) who work with the young people in C2C are all recruited from the impacted Chicago neighborhoods; they are credible messengers with lived experience and experts at engaging young people and their families.

The University of Chicago Crime Lab has been evaluating this program through a randomized control trial, and recently released the very promising mid-study results. As is noted in the Crime Lab release:

“Through a randomized controlled trial, researchers have found that C2C reduces violent-crime arrests by almost 50% and increases academic engagement for participating youth.”

C2C has to-date served over 600 young people, most aged 13-18. Importantly, the young people in this program have very complex needs, including one or more of the following in their histories:

  • Juvenile probation
  • Gang involved
  • Had gun charges
  • Missed a third or more of the school year
  • Experienced homelessness
  • Victim of violent crime
  • Witnessed violent crime

Key results include:

  • 48% fewer violent-crime arrests than their peers at conclusion of the program. What’s even more notable is that this persists; 1.5 years after the program ends, young people in C2C have 38% fewer violent-crime arrests than their peers
  • 42% fewer total arrests than their peers
  • Youth in C2C attend an additional 7 days of school than their peers in the year after the program starts
  • Youth in C2C have 32% fewer school misconducts in the year after the program starts

This program also shows that the problem of youth violence must be addressed not just by addressing the behavior of the young people, but also the trauma they’ve experienced.

One of the youth in the program, Malik, attended the press conference with Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, where these results were announced and noted:

“With the help of the people around me in the C2C program, I realized I had potential and more things were in my future if I just opened my eyes to see. They helped me get back on my feet at a point where I had hit rock bottom. Choose to Change – I wouldn’t call it a program – I’d call it a family. The people at these organizations are here to help you. They answer the phone any time of the day or night, they’re always there for emotional support or guidance. They’re outstanding people – always willing to help and will never say no – whatever the task may be.”

This community partnership of human service non-profit organizations is only one example of how, when provided with the proper resources, and the right strategy, the community can successfully collaborate to address complex and long-standing social problems. Going forward we will need our sector to lift up the things we do well, working to solve our deepest problems, by relying on the strength of our communities. We will need to work together in all the areas the Assembly represents to advocate for resources to replicate our successes and strengthen our communities. Consider joining the National Assembly, and let’s all work together!

Jeff Fleischer, MSW is the Chief Executive Office of Youth Advocate Programs, Inc. and the Chair of the National Human Services Assembly Board of Directors.