All In This Together: National Youth Violence Prevention Week

(April 28, 2023) Violence in schools has been a source of constant concern for many students, parents, and community members in America recently. Just a few weeks ago, our Executive Director wrote a blog following the shooting at the Covenant School in Nashville, during which three students, three members of faculty, and the shooter (a former student) were killed. Unfortunately, active shooters are not the only kind of violence that our children may face in their schools and in their lives.

This week, April 24 through 28, marked National Youth Violence Prevention Week 2023. Youth violence, as it is spoken of here, goes beyond the specter of the school shooter. According to the CDC, “Youth violence is the intentional use of physical force or power to threaten or harm others by young people ages 10-24. It can include fighting, bullying, threats with weapons, and gang-related violence.” This definition includes the more “mundane” types of threats and violence that children may face from peers on a day-to-day basis. Unlike the ever-increasing spate of shootings in schools – typically considered to have begun with Columbine in 1999 – violence among youth is and always has been a problem. The aim of this week, founded in 2001, is to raise awareness of methods of preventing youth violence.

Following the infamous Columbine shooting, two Colorado senators formed a legislative committee on violence prevention, which eventually led to the creation of the CDC’s Youth Violence Prevention Centers (YVPCs). New YVPCs are established and funded in five-year cycles, and since 2000, these centers have been researching the best methods for violence detection and prevention by working in communities that are experiencing some of the highest levels of violence in the country. Now on their fifth cycle of YVPCs, the CDC recommends implementing community-level prevention strategies. Such strategies tend to reach the most people and be most cost-effective. To see what else has been discovered through the work of the YVPC’s, please see the CDC’s page on their “Lessons Learned.”

In general, the CDC recommends six strategies for preventing youth violence:

Credit: CDC, “What is Youth Violence?

All of these strategies intertwine with our work here at AFC. Almost everything we do involves bringing together groups of people to create a community of support around children. Whether it’s advocating for the creation of more and better out-of-school time programs, or collaborating to improve the child welfare system, these are all factors that can help reduce youth violence.

It’s critical that we at Allies for Children and our partners work in these areas that can help reduce violence among our children. While many of us may want to believe that youth violence isn’t a problem in our area unless it affects us directly, that simply isn’t true. According to the 2021 Pennsylvania Youth Survey (PAYS) conducted by the PA Commission on Crime and Delinquency (PCCD), 19.2% of students in Allegheny County reported having been threatened at school in the past twelve months – higher than the statewide rate of 16.7%. Also according to the PAYS data, 24.6% of Allegheny County students reported having been bullied in the past twelve months.

The good news is that there is action being taken to combat youth violence in Allegheny County. Earlier this year, the City of Pittsburgh received a $2.5 million grant to expand the Safe Passages program that is already in operation at Perry High School. This program is run by Operation Better Block, a co-applicant for the grant, and brings experienced community members into schools to serve as mentors and advocates. According to PCCD, which administered the grant, “The Safe Passages program will place Community & Safety Coordinators and Youth Ambassadors inside these schools to serve as violence interrupters and identify at-risk youth to help them become part of the peace-keeping solution.” This is directly in line with the community-level interventions recommended by the YVPCs, and several of the CDC’s prevention strategies. The grant money will be used to continue the Safe Passages program at Perry High School, and to implement it at eight other Pittsburgh Public Schools.

In addition to this Pittsburgh-focused initiative, there is work being done all throughout Allegheny County. In January 2023, PCCD awarded Violence Intervention and Prevention (VIP) grants to over one hundred projects across the state, 22 of which were in Allegheny County. Some of these initiatives are located in Woodland Hills, Wilkinsburg, and Sto-Rox, to name a few, and many are focused specifically on youth and family intervention.

In his budget for 2023-2024, Governor Shapiro proposed over $7 million in funds for Violence and Delinquency Prevention Programs, as well as over $100 million for the next round of VIP grants. These funds are in addition to the general fund for PCCD, for which Governor Shapiro has proposed nearly $2.5 million.

Youth violence is not a new issue, and it’s one that many people, communities, and agencies have been navigating for a long time. It is possible to bring down those numbers of students who have been threatened, hurt, and bullied while at school. Doing so will require the attention, action, and intervention of our communities as a whole, providing support to break the cycle of violence.

Laura Condon, Allies for Children Project Coordinator