In 2010, the Columbia Heights / Shaw Family Support Collaborative (CH/SFSC or “The Collaborative”), received funding from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) to build upon its violence reduction work as part of the Community Based Violence Prevention (CBVP) demonstration. The Collaborative, a nonprofit organization founded in 1996, offered services in English and Spanish for youth and families, including community and case advocacy. In recent years, the Collaborative expanded to work with additional communities and the organization changed its name to Collaborative Solutions for Communities (CSC). The agency used its CBVP grant to establish the Creating Solutions Together (CST) program in seven Police Service Areas (PSAs) of Washington, D.C., including sections of the Columbia Heights and Shaw neighborhoods.
The CST program focused on youth between 14 and 24 years of age, providing case management, outreach work, and family services. It helped clients address their personal, social, and family circumstances and quality of life issues, focusing on factors that would cause them to be at risk for involvement in violence or gangs. The program fit into the Collaborative’ s broader work of building opportunities for youth in the Columbia Heights and Shaw communities, with an emphasis on Latino and African American youth.
Between 2011 and 2014, the research team from John Jay College visited the Collaborative to assess the implementation of the CST program and its potential effects on youth violence. Researchers interviewed staff members, reviewed project documents and reports about the program, and analyzed police data from the PSAs where CST was implemented. Interviews were conducted with current and former outreach workers, case managers, affiliated partner organizations, program managers, and directors. Researchers asked questions about each respondent’s knowledge, perceptions and opinions of how CST was planned and implemented, as well as how successful the overall program was in the community.
DC’s Response to Violence
The Collaborative was founded in 1996, as a family and youth services organization. The staff was concerned with high rates of crime and violence among local youth. After the 1999 on-site shooting of a staff member at the Latin American Youth Center (another nonprofit organization in the same area), District leaders encouraged the Collaborative to focus more on youth violence intervention (Horwitz, Swell and Lipton 1999). In the summer of 2000, the Latin American Youth Center and the Collaborative received a “Weed and Seed” grant from the U.S. Department of Justice to partner with the U.S. Attorney’s office and other District officials in developing a multi-agency strategy for gang prevention and intervention. Through this project and its work with other organizations, the Collaborative began to focus more intensively on employment and recreational opportunities for youth as the main mechanism for decreasing violence. Even as these programs became established and expanded, however, youth violence continued to escalate across the District.
Violence in the early 2000s was especially high and publicly visible in the Columbia Heights and Shaw communities. The Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) asked the Collaborative to coordinate in further efforts to address this violence.
Collaborative staff worked with a police unit devoted to gang violence in an effort to improve case closure rates. From the perspective of the Collaborative staff, low case closure rates likely contributed to the high rate of gun violence because youth assumed they would not get caught for shootings. The Collaborative consulted with other cities to learn about comprehensive gang intervention approaches, and in 2003 it established the Gang Intervention Partnership (GIP).
The GIP model relied on a philosophy of 3 P’s: 1) violence is preventable, 2) there is always a bigger picture behind violence, and 3) it takes partnerships to stop violence. It brought together city and community agencies, schools, and the police department to collaborate and share information, to identify those most at-risk, and to intervene with youth and their families. Initially, some within the Collaborative were ambivalent about announcing an official gang intervention partnership with law enforcement, believing that their work was successful at least in part due to its low profile and its non-police identity. After establishing the GIP, the Collaborative focused on building trust with its community partners, including police.
At the outset of the GIP, the Collaborative hired several people who brought new skills and insights to the work. They used network mapping tools to diagram the locations and social connections between shootings in the community. This revealed that the youth violence problem in DC was concentrated among a small subset of young people in the community and it exposed the connections between shootings and the various unnamed groups affiliated with local drug dealing and transnational gangs. The GIP served as the foundation for the CBVP program that would soon follow.
The Collaborative received a CBVP demonstration grant to implement a new violence intervention strategy from 2010 through 2013. The name, Creating Solutions Together, was adopted in 2011. The program’s experience in service provision, gang intervention, and outreach work, primarily through the GIP, prepared the staff to implement the newly funded effort. CST aimed for a community-based, multi-disciplinary approach to youth and gang violence prevention and intervention. Prior to receiving OJJDP funding, the Collaborative’s work was largely focused on family units, which was in line with the organization’s mission of saving communities and strengthening families. The CBVP grant encouraged the Collaborative to reach young people individually, including those not connected to their families. The Collaborative targeted the new services on violence prevention and outreach work to vulnerable youth, crisis intervention, sponsorship of pro-social activities, and family case management. To implement these over the course of the grant period, the Collaborative expanded its partnerships and focused more on its partnerships with schools.
Outreach workers tracked the activities of youth involved in gangs or crews, responded to critical incidents, mediated conflicts, and went to homicide scenes after the police. The staff had traditionally included these activities in its work, but the CBVP grant increased the program’s consistency and professionalism. The funding provided outreach workers with over 100 hours of training in a certification program, including modules on data collection, engaging the business community, and key principles of youth development. In other trainings, outreach workers learned Family Group Conferencing and Solution Focused Brief Therapy.
The Collaborative began to provide more pro-social activity options for young people in the community, such as employment training and sports programs. Many youth went from spending most of their time on the street to taking an active interest in their educations. With OJJDP funds, the Collaborative hired more staff to coordinate its community education campaigns (shifting norms and attitudes against violence), which included candlelight vigils, peace walks, cookouts, and other summer activities.
In preparing to launch the CST model, the Collaborative examined the predictors of future shootings. They found that attempted homicides, shootings with or without victims, “skipping parties,” and fights at school (or any other offenses resulting in a suspension) appeared to be catalytic events that triggered incidents of youth violence and retaliations. The CST program included multiple forms of engagement, information sharing, and service referrals across key institutions, namely schools, police, and community social services organizations. Intervention and mediation before or after violent altercations, to prevent retaliation, was another central component to the CST work.
The CST program’s over-arching goal was to reduce violent youth crime in the targeted PSAs. The specific timeframe for the reduction was not always clear to everyone involved. Some staff interviewed by researchers referred to reductions in the implementation period (2010-2013), while others discussed this same goal in terms of preventing future homicides. Within this larger goal, the CST set three intermediate goals: changing community norms regarding violence, providing alternatives to violence and gang membership, and increasing high-risk young people’s perception of the risks and costs of being involved in violence. In terms of program implementation, the central objectives were: to successfully engage and ‘graduate’ youth and their families from programming, to provide technical assistance to new sites, and to train a minimum of 60 outreach workers and related staff.
The CST program combined suppression, outreach, and inter-agency collaboration tactics. Suppression used law enforcement tools in response to youth crime and violence, outreach created meaningful relationships between at-risk youth and outreach workers, and collaboration between policing agencies and community organizations served to improve responses, build trust, and avoid counter-productive police actions.
The Collaborative’s programs and activities were overseen by the executive director and various program directors and supported by the organization’s administrative staff. These staff dedicated a substantial amount of their time to CST, but they also worked on other projects. Most CST strategies were implemented by outreach workers who were organized into teams focusing separately on Latino gangs and African American gangs. The Latino team had two full-time outreach workers, one part-time outreach worker, and a team leader. The African American team had two full-time outreach workers and one part-time outreach worker. Each full-time outreach worker was responsible for a caseload of approximately 30 youth and some of these were considered high risk. The Collaborative also employed case managers who were supervised by a clinical social worker who devoted half her time to emergency clinical support for CST. At the start of CST in 2011, 154 youth were actively involved in the program. The program enrolled an average nine new youth per month.
The CST program targeted seven PSAs: 101, 302, 304, 305, 307, 308 and 404. According to the Collaborative’s CBVP proposal, these PSAs had high levels of violent crime and gang activity. The intervention areas did align naturally with community boundaries, but they were nearly contiguous with one another and fell generally within the Columbia Heights and Shaw neighborhoods. Most of the young people involved in CST (age 14 to 24) resided in the targeted PSAs, although staff members sometimes worked with clients from neighboring areas if conflicts spilled over the PSA borders.
In partnership with the City’s Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services (DYRS), the Collaborative classified eligible youth into three tiers of risk, based on their activities and the depth of their association with gangs or crews. Tier One included high risk youth, those involved in illegal drug sales, who regularly carried firearms, and who were willing to engage in violence. Tier Two included youth with known connections to Tier One youth, who may have participated in gangs or crews at a low level, and who may have carried firearms but had not yet been known to use them. Tier Three comprised youth at low risk of engaging in violence. The program focused mostly on youth in Tiers One and Two. Outreach workers identified youth who could be a good fit for the program during critical incident responses and during visits to schools, parks, recreational centers and youth groups. Some youth were referred to CST by law enforcement or by family members.
The core strategies of CST were outreach, case management, mediation, and community engagement. Outreach and case management focused on building relationships and providing social services to youth participants. Mediation focused on finding non-violent solutions to ongoing conflicts. Community engagement included responses to critical incidents, work with schools and community education campaigns, and “safe passages,” which focused on coordinating with police and community organizations in specific geographic areas with high rates of violence.
The main purpose of CST program outreach was to build trust and relationships with neighborhood youth at a high risk of violence. Those youth were often disconnected from existing social services and community organizations and outreach workers tried to steer them into supportive connections. At its outset, the Collaborative initiated conversations with community residents to introduce the outreach workers and begin forming connections with local youth. Eventually, through the public support of key community members, the outreach workers built reputations as people who could be trusted and who genuinely cared about the community and about its young people.
Outreach workers recruited clients into CST simply by spending time with them on the streets and by inviting them to Collaborative programs. Eventually, youth began to approach Collaborative staff on their own after hearing about the available services and supports. Recruitment often began during critical incident responses—i.e. outreach workers engaged residents in conversation on scene after a violent incident. After intervening in a crisis, CST staff members would share information about upcoming community events, job skills training, and educational opportunities.
Client outreach focused on youth who were known to be at-risk for gang activity.
The process was often difficult and took considerable investments of time. It also required creativity and a genuine interest in working with high-risk youth. Outreach workers noted that listening to what youth and their families said “between the lines” was an essential skill for the work. Workers constantly asked themselves: (1) why is this person saying these particular things in this way; (2) what does he or she actually want and need; and (3) what strengths does this person already possess that could help in achieving positive, long-term goals?
Connecting with residents in a variety of settings, including schools, recreational centers, and parks allowed outreach workers to learn about new developments in the community. Outreach workers also fielded calls from any school or recreational center that requested assistance. On a typical day, the outreach staff was in the office for just one or two hours with the rest of the day spent in the community, especially during after-school hours. Workers tried to focus on youth in their designated caseloads and they were required to follow up on a regular basis until a youth was deemed low-risk enough to no longer require services.
Over the years, CST staff grew close and learned to work well together. The work was fast-paced, requiring them to meet and strategize on an ongoing basis. During routine review discussions, staff members would outline what they knew, what they did not know, and what they needed to know, and then designate and distribute responsibilities across the entire staff.
In their first contact with youth, outreach workers shared information about the Collaborative’s work and how they could help. They made it clear that they were not trying to impose rules or tell anyone what to do; they were simply offering help. One recurrent theme, however, was the likely consequence of participating in shootings and violence. Outreach workers often shared their own histories as a way to relate to the youth and to ease potential nervousness on the part of the youth. Once youth saw that outreach workers genuinely wanted to help and were not a threat, they usually became more receptive. They became especially interested once they learned that Collaborative staff were ready to help them access job opportunities or other employment assistance.
If outreach workers had difficulty making the initial connections with youth, they were trained to continue interacting with the youth until they opened up. According to CST staff, youth generally interpreted the persistence of the outreach workers as honest concern. When an outreach worker determined that a youth was reluctant to engage, the worker could contact family and friends to facilitate an introduction. The key to effective client engagement was using all available partners and resources—no single worker was expected to succeed without allies.
Outreach workers developed a passion for helping the community and they often treated the work as more than a job. Most of them were originally from the target neighborhoods, which helped them to understand the social context. They were able to speak with youth about their own experiences with violent incidents and how they learned to avoid putting their lives and the lives of their families at risk. It was not uncommon for an outreach worker to stay out in the neighborhood until midnight. Some worked 12 to 16 hour shifts. The outreach workers told researchers that they could not go home at night until the work was truly done, regardless of how long they were scheduled to work or how much they were being paid.
The workers did whatever they needed to do. This might mean helping a youth learn to use computers to look for jobs, often in the Collaborative offices. It might mean going to appointments with youth, such as court hearings and referrals for services. By the end of the OJJDP grant, CST staff had come to know their youth participants extremely well. Even after the grant funding for outreach work ended, some workers remained in contact with certain youth and families, referring them back to the Collaborative as necessary. Most youth in the community appreciated their efforts, but not all youth were grateful. Some responded with anger and threats that put outreach workers at risk. The workers were trained for these scenarios and always responded peacefully and positively.
To preserve outreach workers’ roles as youth advocates, separate case management staff handled broader family services for CST youth. Outreach workers identified youth who could benefit from family services and referred them to case managers. For example, if outreach workers had a client whose family was about to become homeless, they would talk to a case manager who tried to find a solution. Case managers would work with youth and their families to develop a plan for dealing with other immediate needs, such as finding employment. If a youth receiving services was gang or crew affiliated, outreach workers would continue to handle that part of the work. This required coordination and clear boundaries between outreach workers and case managers.
Mediation was used during or after violent incidents to deter future retaliation. After an incident occurred, the mediation team worked to broker a short-term understanding between the people involved so that a long-term strategy could be devised. The Collaborative needed to be well-informed about gang and crew behavior to handle mediations effectively, and the conversations during a mediation often helped staff to assess the deeper needs of youth. Mediations prioritized situations and individuals involving multiple risk factors, such as youth who joined gangs at an early age, those with family members involved in gangs, and youth with a history of delinquent behavior, poor academic performance, and disruptive behavior in school. The mediation team used “solution focused” questions to guide participants through the mediation stages, including: introducing the issue and participants, gathering information, identifying interest and positions, developing options, building agreements, and finalizing agreements. Outreach workers, as well as case managers, community members, and even other gang members could refer individuals for mediation as necessary.
WORK IN THE COMMUNITY
Critical Incident Response
OJJDP funding also allowed the Collaborative to implement a critical incident response strategy. This was a broader response to incidents than mediation and included people and organizations outside of those directly involved in a given incident. Staff received information about incidents in the community through the police alert system, youth, schools, or referrals through MPD. Whenever they were alerted of an incident, Collaborative staff members responded to the situation within two hours. They set up a safe area near the incident location in case other violence broke out, and surveyed the area to identify any ongoing risk of harm. A staff member (usually the outreach response manager) would attempt to engage with the family. At the same time, outreach workers would speak with bystanders to obtain additional information. The staff usually tried to connect the family to Crime Victims’ Services, which provided up to $25,000 worth of support, including $6,000 for burial and $3,000 for counseling, loss and bereavement. A vigil might be arranged to help the family grieve and to draw community attention to the consequences of gun violence. The Collaborative would provide candles for the event, arrange for MPD to have a patrol car on standby so no one would disrupt the ceremony, and then staff the event with outreach workers.
After any violent incident response, the staff would return to the CST office for a critical incident meeting to review the factors that precipitated the incident. In these meetings, staff members discussed what they knew, what they did not know, and what they needed to know. Staff always tried to gather as much information as they could in order to connect with aggressors to start mediation, work towards a ceasefire, and attempt to halt potential retaliation. Collaborative staff also tried to monitor other key individuals involved in the incident. They might take those individuals out to a movie or dinner to distract them and to keep them involved in pro-social activities. Staff wanted to ensure that at-risk youth remained with them during weekends, when violent situations were more likely to occur.
Beginning in 2011, CST developed a partnership with the Washington Hospital Center that enabled outreach workers to be among the first responders to critical incidents. A trauma prevention and outreach coordinator at the hospital would contact outreach workers about violent incidents involving youth. An outreach worker would then meet with youth and families at the hospital to determine what services and supports may be needed. The relationship between the two agencies proved to be helpful in sharing information and connecting youth with appropriate services. Outreach workers signed confidentiality forms to comply with HIPPA regulations that protected victims’ privacy.
Monitoring Violent Incidents
Outreach staff used multiple systems to gather and share information about violence. One particular website, Homicide Watch D.C., was used almost daily as it posted information about virtually every murder in Washington, DC. It was part of a larger network of Homicide Watch websites that reported murders in cities around the country. The site allowed outreach workers to compare the information they gathered from the community with what was being reported online to see if they had missed anything important. Staff also monitored the MPD alert system that sent out incident alerts within twenty or thirty minutes of violent events. Each alert contained information such as the incident address, the color of any car that was involved, and identifying details about the suspect. Outreach workers monitored MPD crime statistics as well.
Initially, CST outreach workers found it difficult to get critical information from the community because people were very cautious. Community events organized by the Collaborative helped develop positive relationships with the neighborhood. The annual “You’ve Got Talent” event, for example, brought together many kids and families and increased their familiarity with the outreach staff. The workers also helped youth in summer job initiatives. As community residents came to recognize the positive efforts of the outreach staff, they became more receptive to returning the favor and helping outreach workers.
The Collaborative always tried to make staff available to assist schools. Outreach workers helped prevent fights both on and off school property and they tried to connect students with needed services. They talked with youth at risk of suspension or expulsion, provided them with a safe place to go as an alternative to staying on the streets after school, and even helped some students complete school work assignments. During the CBVP grant period, the Collaborative sent confidential emails to school officials if they believed a student posed a safety threat. The school worked to inform students of the consequences of violent behavior and the Collaborative held meetings at the schools (often providing food) on a regular basis to discuss the risks of gang membership and to recruit youth as CST allies. These meetings quickly turned into a safe place for youth—even for gang-affiliated students—to interact with other residents and to discuss neighborhood issues.
The Collaborative offered after-school activities as well (e.g., sports) and encouraged the participation of the youth most at risk for gang involvement. Youth had to maintain a minimum grade point average to participate in activities. Outreach staff also spent time with students on school grounds, especially during lunch periods. They knew that gang recruitment usually occurred during lunch. If an outreach worker witnessed gang recruitment taking place, an attempt would be made to engage both the targeted student and the recruiting gang member in a conversation. Outreach workers learned to approach students after an attempted recruitment took place rather than as it was occurring.
Collaborative staff focused on stopping “skipping parties”—where youth would gather at an empty residence during school hours to drink, use drugs, have sex, and sometimes fight. In collaboration with school personnel, the staff tried to hold young people accountable for their actions by tracking suspensions (particularly out of Bell High School in Columbia Heights) and coordinating with attendance counselors to determine patterns of student absences. The Collaborative sometimes sent youth who had recently been in a serious fight to stay with out-of-town relatives to prevent violent retaliations.
Staff members invited school officials to community events and block parties, providing schools with an opportunity to inform the community about what their local school may have to offer and how it was a safe place for students. The Collaborative coordinated meetings between schools, police, elected officials, and other major offices to ensure that an incident at one school did not affect other schools. Coordination with schools was not always easy, but it provided the Collaborative and the school system with greater understanding about the dynamics underlying many student conflicts.
The Collaborative always tried to help youth understand the dangers of continued involvement in violence, particularly in high-risk areas. The CST program distributed public education materials and announcements. It organized workshops and events in partnership with other community-based organizations and agencies. In workshops and other meetings, the program distributed materials describing the resources and programs available for families and youth, including summer employment programs, mental health and substance abuse treatment, after-school activities, adult re-entry supports, teen health initiatives, etc. Workshop topics ranged from parenting supports, to photography, creative writing, DJ skills, dance and music groups, and a larger event called the Youth Outreach Anti-Violence Summit. Partner organizations involved in delivering these workshops benefited by building connections with different groups in the community. Some of the partner organizations involved in the workshops included: Shrine of the Sacred Heart; the Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services; Office of Latino Affairs; Temple University; the Latin American Youth Center; George Washington University; World Vision; Safe Passages; the U.S. Department of Justice; AFL-CIO Community Services Agency; Covenant House in Washington; the Northwest Columbia Heights Civic Association; DC’s Court Services Offender Supervision Agency; the Georgia Avenue Collaborative; Metropolitan Police Department; Columbia Heights Youth Club; Homicide Watch DC; the DC Office of Youth Programs; Federation of Civic Associations; Lifting Voices; InDaStreets, Inc.; Greater DC Cares; the DC Public Schools; and the Family Division of the Trial Lawyers Association.
The Safe Passages Initiative was designed to keep youth safe from violent incidents on their way to and from school. It arranged for close coordination among various MPD sections, the DC transit police and probation officers, private security companies, and community groups with responsibility for monitoring neighborhoods. The Collaborative implemented the program with every participating property, day and night, covering a ten block radius in Columbia Heights. Police in DC were supportive of the Safe Passages Initiative and believed that it provided a useful citizen network for better and quicker responses. The combination of Safe Passages, law enforcement, and private security helped prevent potential conflicts among youth. At one point, District officials considered building a Safe Passages database of individuals and incidents that would help to identify the youth most likely to be involved in problem behaviors.
The CST program provided a 115-hour certification curriculum that trained outreach workers in critical incident response, street-level outreach, conflict resolution, group mediation and group facilitation, media relations, advanced youth development, Solution Focused Brief Therapy, and Family Group Conferencing. Each training session emphasized hands-on work through vignettes, role playing, and simulations. Trainings were intentionally stressful to provide an indication of what outreach workers might experience on the street. The trainings also helped workers to address their own emotional reactions to incidents.
About 100 individuals completed the program and earned certification by the end of the OJJDP grant period. This included nine CST staff, 44 people from local community organizations, and 37 people from partner organizations in Maryland and other parts of DC. Outreach workers were organized into “violence intervention teams” (VITs) that also included case managers and social workers. Each VIT provided a range of services and followed specific protocols to support individuals and their families. Protocols included violence response and incident follow-up, retaliation prevention, gang mediation, case review, referrals, reentry planning, and stress intervention workshops. VIT activities supported the goal of providing youth with alternatives to involvement in violence, using concrete intervention strategies.
The training curriculum included presentations by Aquil Basheer, executive director of the Professional Community Intervention Training Institute in Los Angeles, California. Drawing upon his experiences in the Black Panther Movement and community activism, Mr. Basheer trained outreach workers on mediation tactics, community development, and community interventions using street scenarios. For outreach workers to be certified, they had to complete training hours in all areas of the curriculum. The Collaborative offered certification training once a year with other trainings throughout the year. This allowed new outreach workers to start training at any time. All new outreach workers and case managers received a binder containing information from each component of the training curriculum, including a section about their responsibilities to enter data into the program’s Efforts to Outcome (ETO) database.
One of the most difficult aspects of outreach work was sustaining youth engagement. Like all young people, the youth involved in Collaborative activities were restless and easily bored. The Collaborative tried to keep its programming interesting and it provided tangible incentives for participation at meetings and events, including food. Workers often had to cover large areas, which made it challenging to build relationships with hesitant youth over time. Outreach workers consulted with colleagues to adjust their schedules accordingly, and the team developed thirty-day relationship-building plans when needed. The Collaborative would also reconfigure outreach worker assignments, allowing them to spend more time in one place.
Cultural differences posed other challenges. Outreach workers were trained to handle violent incidents similarly, regardless of the race of the youth involved, but they admitted to researchers that they sometimes had difficulties relating to youth of different ethnicities or races. Youth and families were typically more responsive to individuals who were similar to themselves. Given the seriousness of this issue, the Collaborative created distinct outreach teams—one with African-American outreach workers and another with Latino and Hispanic workers.
Despite it being a requirement of the job, there was inconsistency in when and how outreach workers documented their work. To remedy the problem, Collaborative administrators supervised outreach workers and created documentation schedules that could not become backlogged. They also held one-on-one supervision meetings to discuss specific documentation problems as they arose. In a related concern, outreach workers expressed frustration with some of the bureaucratic difficulties of delivering services to youth and families. Some workers told researchers that there was too much paperwork required and this limited their time and efforts with youth and families.
School personnel were initially hesitant to trust Collaborative staff and sometimes refused to provide them with information, perhaps because they did not want school district officials to know about every violent incident occurring on campus. Eventually, however, the community and the schools embraced the Collaborative approach. Schools soon began to call Collaborative staff members to tell them about conflicts that had occurred or were about to occur, including nonviolent ones. Information from schools helped the Collaborative to manage its relationships with city government and school officials. When a city government official would contact the Collaborative out of concern about a violent incident, staff members could relay what school personnel had already told them and reassure the official that the school was handling the issue. Gaining the support and trust of school officials was an ongoing process and towards the end of the grant period, staff members were spending a significant amount of time working to maintain the trust of schools.
Some outreach workers experienced secondary trauma (i.e. through hearing and absorbing the stories of others’ traumatic experiences) while working with youth in the community. There was a clear need for therapy and debriefing to help manage emotional fatigue and absences. While the Collaborative provided mentoring, supervision, and coaching support to address these experiences, other partner organizations did not always have this type of support. Leadership established “cool down groups” to help staff cope with the emotionally draining aspects of the work. Because outreach workers often lived in the same neighborhoods they served, they often knew the youth who were involved in violence or those who were killed. Outreach workers needed time to discuss and reflect on the violence they often witnessed in the community. The “cool down groups” came to function as therapeutic support for outreach workers. One staff member reported that the groups allowed him say, for example, “Today, I really can’t handle this case. I knew that kid. Somebody else needs to take over. I’ll help you behind the scenes, but this is too much for me to manage.”
“Cool down groups” eventually included staff from other community organizations that had their own outreach workers. All outreach workers came together to ensure that everyone would be involved and the groups could be responsive to all situations in the community. The process also allowed outreach workers from different organizations to share their skills. Ultimately, the groups proved essential and under the OJJDP grant, the Collaborative hired a consultant to continue “cool down groups” and trainings. The consultant provided guidance on how the Collaborative should help staff members get “back on track” after violent incidents.
The Collaborative made some changes to the core components of CST as the grant period progressed, and as staff learned what elements seemed to be most effective. For example, the Collaborative put more energy into creating jobs for youth who were harder to place; they developed a media/IT program to certify youth in media skills. Despite these changes, however, the Collaborative still had difficulty obtaining employment for some young people. Staff shifted some funding from the GED program to the workforce development program in an attempt to improve the employment prospects of youth.
Although outreach worker training was helpful, some outreach workers said that shared experience with youth was the key to being an effective outreach worker. For example, some outreach workers had college degrees, but they lacked real life experiences similar to those faced by the youth they would be helping. It was often difficult for these outreach workers to understand how to effectively engage with youth—no matter how much training they received.
Sometimes other agencies did not have full staff attendance at trainings. For example, while offering New Beginnings Trainings to DYRS and Juvenile Detention Centers, only 160 out of 300 staff members from those agencies attended. Despite this, the Collaborative conducted a two-hour training session for staff on local youth violence dynamics in DC and on using Solution Focused Brief Therapy to engage youth and reduce violence. According to the Collaborative staff, some DYRS staff did not actively invest in changing their practices. Once the DYRS was allowed some input into the agenda for training staff members and development of the program tailored to the DC context, they began to actively participate in Collaborative training.
Partnerships between the Collaborative and other agencies were a major element of the program’s success. Agencies partnering with the Collaborative addressed family stabilization issues, workforce development, and gang prevention. Each partnering agency had unique resources and made valuable contributions to youth violence prevention efforts. The Collaborative worked to build other partnerships with schools, local community organizations, and government entities so that their network of partners was strong and diverse. Through its partnerships, the Collaborative became a leader in mapping violence, collecting data, coordinating inter-agency efforts, and defining the broader continuum of services. The relationships of staff from various partnership agencies contributed to the overall success of the effort.
Historically, the Collaborative had a tense relationship with MPD. For a time, the police department and the schools refused even to admit that there was a gang problem in the city. The 2003 GIP program began to improve the tone of agency relationships. Over time, the police department began to appreciate that arresting youth was only a short-term solution to a longer-term problem, and that community engagement was essential. Building relationships with police required time and energy with many meetings. Eventually, the Collaborative developed a much closer and positive relationship with the police.
Communication with MPD officers was crucial. Officers were encouraged to refer youth to the Collaborative, allowing outreach workers to intervene before a youth had to be arrested. Police officers informed Collaborative members about gang activity or specific individuals who they believed were involved in gangs, while the Collaborative provided the MPD with general information about anticipated violence and current gang “beefs.” Collaborative staff believed this allowed the MPD to prevent violence and police officers appreciated the relationship with the Collaborative’s outreach workers, as it helped them to learn about community conditions.
Some community members were initially suspicious of the Collaborative’s connections with police. Community residents generally had very low confidence in the police and many believed the police would not do anything to prevent violence or to address violence even after it had occurred. Outreach workers explained to residents that a relationship with MPD was important so program staff could call the police on behalf of a youth in trouble. Their relationship with police allowed them to call and say, “This is my kid. He did something extremely stupid. I guarantee you it won’t happen again. I’m going to monitor him.” In turn, police were careful to avoid giving the neighborhood the impression that outreach workers were part of MPD. This was essential to ensure that residents felt comfortable communicating with outreach workers.
Overall, the Collaborative had a good relationship with MPD. Occasionally Collaborative staff members were uncomfortable with how the police department responded to certain situations. In those instances, liaison officers were dispatched to discuss and work out these issues. The Collaborative team told researchers about several times when off-duty officers responded to incidents to support the Collaborative’s work. These officers did so with the support of the Police Chief and Assistant Police Chief. While this was very helpful and appreciated by the staff, some believed that it relied too much on informal relationships and that an institutional memorandum of understanding would have been useful.
Close relationships with schools were very important in the Collaborative because a lot of youth violence occurred around school property. The Collaborative communicated regularly with MPD, school security, and the Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services to monitor gang issues in the schools. Outreach workers from the Collaborative were often able to provide detailed information about potential gang violence to all of these entities. Some schools were more welcoming of the Collaborative involvement than others and there were disagreements about what level and type of services the Collaborative should offer. After some effort, outreach workers became a welcome presence in most community schools.
One of the Collaborative’s goals was to build the schools’ capacity to continue violence prevention work after funding ended. Schools faced multiple factors that affect youth violence dynamics, such as dropout rates, abuse and violence in students’ homes and families, and other socio-economic challenges. The OJJDP grant could not address all issues, and school personnel tried to secure additional funding to support youth struggling to complete school. The Collaborative was one such source of assistance and tried to make their outreach workers consistently available to the schools. It proved to be a fruitful partnership and schools continued to come to the Collaborative when they needed help.
The Washington Hospital Center created a program to focus on helping youth who were victims of violence. Hospital staff noted that it was not enough to treat physical injuries. They hoped to divert youth away from future gang activity, risky behavior, and criminal involvement. Medical staff at the Washington Hospital Center created “Journey before Destination,” a violence prevention and intervention program that targeted youth between the ages of 14 and 24. As part of this program, hospital staff treated youth for physical injuries and offered other services, including family supports and youth programs. When an injured youth was admitted to the hospital, social services staff worked with the youth and his or her family to address some of the factors that may have led to the violent situation.
The Latin America Youth Center (LAYC) worked with the Collaborative to provide outreach work support, both before and during the grant period. While the partnership was designed to provide additional outreach workers, according to Collaborative staff members, youth were less familiar with LAYC and sometimes expressed uncertainty about which workers to approach when they had to address a particular issue. Some youth noted differences in the approaches and amount of time spent on outreach by workers with the Collaborative and those employed by LAYC.
The Collaborative partnered with other, smaller agencies for specific services. One agency called Critical Exposure taught photography to middle and high-school students to advocate for policy change. Some of their issues included: lack of a school library, inconsistent and unfair discipline policies, and a widespread lack of funding for school facilities. Critical Exposure provided basic documentary photography skills and storytelling approaches. Staff members worked with youth to determine possible solutions to the problem and to develop a campaign on the issue. Through Critical Exposure, 150 youth displayed their photography work in an annual, city-wide exhibit. Initially, Critical Exposure shared office space with the Collaborative, resulting in a three-year partnership.
During the grant period, the Collaborative held joint “roll call” meetings that brought police together with the Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services, city council members, security companies, property management representatives, and the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency. In these weekly meetings, participants shared information (e.g., current hotspots and individual and group activities of concern) and analyzed crime statistics to determine if current interventions were working. If specific incidents were brought up by partnering agencies during the roll call meeting, Collaborative members reached out to the youth involved and tried to intervene, reporting back to the group with confidentiality. City officials hoped to continue to the meetings to improve collaborations even after the OJJDP grant period ended. Roll call meetings were initially funded by the city council, but, once crime began to decline, the City switched the funding to other areas.
The Collaborative also participated in monthly “partnership” meetings with city officials and community representatives. These meetings were hosted by different partner agencies each month. At these meetings, attendees informed other agencies of the progress of the city’s initiatives toward improving community safety and requested advice or input as to how programs could be changed. The goal of these partnership meetings was to create a community forum that allowed a variety of stakeholders to contribute to discussions on community safety.
The research team collected anecdotal information from interviews and program activity data from the Collaborative’s Efforts to Outcomes database. The data encompassed the full period of implementation from 2010 through 2013.
DATA ENTRY SYSTEM
In 2011, the Collaborative began using the database, Efforts to Outcomes (ETO), from the company called Social Solutions. The ETO platform provides data management and analysis supports for service delivery organizations that need to track their client interactions and service outcomes. The Collaborative required outreach workers to document their activities with participants at least weekly and to input data on community contacts on an ongoing basis. A representative from the Children’s Youth Investment Trust Incorporation provided technical assistance with ETO.
The Collaborative originally asked outreach workers to record information on paper files, but found that the switch to ETO was both more efficient and more user-friendly. Even with the ETO system, however, the program faced informational challenges. Since youth were not assigned to a specific outreach worker, all outreach workers could view the notes entered about any youth; this compromised the confidentiality of what youth told a specific outreach worker. In addition, outreach workers often had their own strategies for data entry. They entered notes on varying timelines and they often developed their own shorthand styles which led to some confusion and miscommunication.
YOUTH ENROLLMENT RECORDS
According to the program’s own data, CST activities peaked in 2011, with a total of 48,930 enrolment days for all participants. In the startup year, 2009, there were only 3,614 program enrolment days in total, and this quickly rose to over 45,000 in 2010. It began to drop in 2012, to 16,133, likely because of a combination of more focused activities and some reduction in type and scope of services. The program wrapped up in 2013 with 6,056 program days.
Participants and program staff mostly interacted face-to-face, rather than over the phone. During the three-year grant period, there were considerably more face-to-face contacts than telephone contacts, according to agency records. In 2011, the most active year, the program made about 17,000 face-to-face contacts. By comparison, the program made between 1,000 and 2,000 telephone contacts over all three years. This disparity may reflect the importance and effectiveness of in-person engagement, as well as perhaps some logistical barriers to regular phone contact. The highest number of contacts occurred in 2011 and 2012, reflecting the heavier emphasis on recruitment and outreach in the initial years of the program. The number of contacts decreased by 2013 and was very low in 2014 after funding ended. Collaborative staff members began to scale back recruitment as the end of the grant got closer, focusing instead on the youth already enrolled.
Possible Effects on Crime
To explore the possible effects of the Collaborative during the OJJDP grant period, researchers attempted to obtain crime trend data directly from the Washington, DC Metropolitan Police Department. The only available data about violent crime, however, was the publicly available information posted on the police department website, specifically MPD’s annual reports (after 2005), the DC Crime Map (which provided violent crime numbers at the PSA level for each year since 2011), and juvenile arrest data since 2011. The department was unable to provide any additional data to the study.
VIOLENT CRIME TRENDS
Violent crimes generally declined throughout the implementation of the Collaborative, but there were differences by the type of crime. According to the MPD’s annual report series, for example, homicides dropped from 99 in 2006 to 72 in 2014. Robberies, in contrast, increased during the same period, from 687 to 907. Aggravated asaults also increased, nearly doubling from 1,689 to 3,057 by 2014. Some of the increase could be due to growth in the population, or to increasing willingness of citizens to report crimes. It is also possible that trends varied by age and offense across the many neighborhoods of Washington. It was not possible, however, to explore detailed hypotheses due to the limited amount of data available to the study.
The Collaborative focused its efforts on both juveniles and young adults, but MPD does not provide data on arrests with detailed age categories. Thus, the study could only analyze the juvenile proportion of crime. The MPD data show the proportion of homicides perpetrated by juveniles—at the city level—peaking in 2008 (at 12%) and then dropping to a low of seven percent in 2011, just after program implementation. The juvenile proportion of homicide arrests increased to about 10 percent in 2013, declining to four percent in 2014. Of course, the actual numbers of homicides among juveniles is relatively low, so single incidents can affect homicide trends more than in other crimes.
The percentage of robbery arrests that involved youth under age 18 was relatively steady from 2006 to 2014, fluctuating between 35 and 45 percent. Similarly, the proportion of aggravated assault arrests that involved juveniles over the same period fluctuated between 10 and 14 percent, while generally declining.
VIOLENT CRIME IN THE CST PROGRAM AREA
The police department in Washington does not disseminate crime data at the neighborhood level, but the study was able to examine crime trends in the Police Service Areas that were most closely aligned with the program catchment area. These PSAs were: 101, 302, 304, 305, 307, 308, and 404. The MPD provides crime data at the PSA-specific level through its online crime map, but only for years since 2011. To analyze changes in violent crime in the program area before and after CST implementation, researchers had to create a longer time series with a sequence of estimation steps.
The research team began with the PSA-specific data for 2011-2015. To build a baseline estimate for years prior to 2011, researchers calculated the proportion of each type of violent crime (homicide, robbery, and aggravated assaults) in each PSA relative to the equivalent category for the same year in the entire city. This proportion in 2011 was then applied to earlier years, using the city-level raw number of incidents (per violent crime category), to determine an estimated number of incidents of violent crime in each PSA for 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, and 2010. Finally, these estimates in the seven PSAs were combined in order to estimate violent crime incidents in the “program area” for each year prior to 2011. In the accompanying data graphs, these estimated trend lines are marked with dotted lines, while the actual MPD data for the catchment PSAs (all program PSAs combined) are marked with solid lines.
This method assumes that the overall proportion of violent crime in each PSA relative to the whole city in 2011 was steady over the five previous years (2006-2010). Given that the overall crime rate in Washington generally declined from 2006 to 2011, as well as the fact that the neighborhoods affected by CST experienced rapid gentrification during these years, the study’s assumption of steady PSA-to-city proportions may under-estimate the amount of crime in the program PSAs in the earlier years (2006-2011).
Furthermore, all of the estimates and real data presented here are actual numbers of incidents and not per-capita incident rates. Thus, they do not account for changes in resident populations. Population estimates were not available at the PSA level for the most recent years, but data from 2000-2010 indicate that these PSAs likely continued to experience population growth after 2010. Therefore, graphing numbers of violent crimes (as opposed to per capita rates) may over-estimate increases in violent crime incidents relative to the population.
Changes in the three types of violent crime (homicide, robbery, and aggravated assault) in the seven program PSAs from 2006-2015 showed some interesting patterns. The total number of homicides fluctuated from 10 in 2006, to three in 2012, to 14 in 2015. The estimated trend line for robberies, on the other hand, shows a gradual increase from 2006 to 2011, and then a steep decline from 2011 to 2014. In contrast, the estimated trend line for aggravated assaults shows modest fluctuation and an overall decline between 2006 and 2015, from about 250 to approximately 200 incidents.
In order to examine possible changes in violent crimes involving youth within the program areas, the research team next estimated the amount of juvenile violent crime in the seven program PSAs prior to 2011. Juvenile arrests for violent offenses in 2011-2014 were available on the MPD website. The research team selected arrest records for homicide, robbery, and aggravated assault, and then combined the information for all seven PSAs each year. To estimate prior years, the city-level proportion of violent crimes committed by juveniles (provided by MPD for 2006 to 2014) was applied to violent crime figures in the program PSAs from 2006 to 2011.
The study’s estimated amount of juvenile crime in the seven targeted PSAs prior to 2011 relied on the assumption that the city-level proportion of crime committed by juveniles was similar to the PSA-level proportion of crime committed by juveniles. Again, this may under-estimate the amount of juvenile violent crime in the program PSAs, since these areas were selected for CBVP funding due to their high levels of youth crime. The estimated trends for juvenile homicide may also not reflect all homicides that were relevant to the program’s activities, since gang-related retaliations may have occurred outside the designated PSAs. There were also no publicly available data about shootings not resulting in homicide, which are more common. Finally, and as noted above, juvenile homicide data count only those crimes perpetrated by people under age 18. Much more youth violence in the program PSAs, of course, was likely committed by young adults ages 18 to 25. The available MPD data did not allow researchers to separate young adults from all adults age 18 and older.
The analysis of trends in juvenile robberies shows an apparent drop starting in 2010 (program implementation), and stretching to 2015, from a high of 280 incidents in 2010 to 26 in 2015. This could suggest that the Collaborative’s program contributed to a steep reduction in juvenile robberies, but no further conclusions may be drawn without more detailed data and a more appropriate research design (comparison sites, statistical controls, etc.).
The estimated trend in juvenile assaults appears to be relatively steady between 2006 and 2010, with a peak in 2011 (54 assaults), dropping through 2013 (18 assaults). The reduction in assaults from 2011-2013 could be partly attributed to the work of the program, but it is not possible to make causal statements without additional information, and the subsequent increase from 2013 to 2014 raises doubts about any causal implications. The program had begun to close down by 2014 and it may be tempting to infer that this was responsible for the rebound in assaults. But, again, the available data are not sufficient to make such a claim.
The available information was not robust enough to support causal claims about the effects of the CBVP program on youth violence in Washington. Crime trends at the level of PSAs were encouraging, however, albeit with all the caveats noted above. Violent crime among juveniles appeared to be decreasing in the CST catchment areas. When estimates prior to 2011 were included, total juvenile violent crime (homicides, robberies, and assaults combined) showed fairly dramatic drops starting in 2010, the year the CBVP program began. The trends appeared to align with other, anecdotal information about potentially positive effects of the CST initiative.
According to staff and local officials, the CBVP grant was beneficial for the neighborhoods where the CST program took place. The Collaborative experienced challenges as they attempted to integrate the CST strategy into their existing work, but the partners involved always had a strong commitment to building capacity to address gang violence. The Collaborative understood that it could not eradicate the entrenched, underlying problems facing neighborhoods that were often associated with violence. Staff members told researchers that they believed the program had an effect on specific cases of violence, but they called it “wishful thinking” to assume that a local non-profit could fully address the major social problems that lead to chronic violence. Many of the youth involved in gang violence and shootings either grew up together or went to the same elementary schools. Communities just three to four blocks from each other were still in conflict because of what happened to them during the height of the crack cocaine era and sometimes even the residents could not recall exactly why one area distrusted people from the other.
The CST program was not the first outreach-worker program for youth in the Columbia Heights neighborhoods of DC. Because youth had prior exposure to outreach workers, they were sometimes confused when they saw outreach workers using differing tactics to mediate conflicts in the same neighborhood. The Collaborative’s training program was helpful in teaching outreach workers a more unified approach to their work, but the initiative could have benefited from more coordination. Collaborative members recommended implementing a uniform approach to outreach and mediation from the very beginning. Cross-organizational trainings improved the consistency of mediation approaches over the course of the grant period, but could have started earlier and addressed both tactics and practical implementation approaches.
The Collaborative promoted its work through events like “Social Corners” and “You’ve Got Talent,” but some community members appeared to have preconceived notions that youth programming at the Collaborative was only for youth involved in gangs. Others saw the Collaborative only in terms of the direct services that specific individuals received. For example, if a person received mediation services, he or she often thought the Collaborative was mainly a mediation organization. More extensive public awareness campaigns could have helped residents understand the Collaborative and its different services.
The Collaborative adjusted elements of the CST program throughout its implementation. For example, the original strategic decision to institute separate directors of youth services and family services became a source of tension between staff members, and some began to take on “safer” cases to raise their section’s success numbers. This conflict was a drain on organizational resources, and eventually the managers decided to re-connect the two sections. In retrospect, staff believed that varying personality traits of program leaders could have aggravated existing tensions. Management needed to work harder to show staff members that they all belonged to the Collaborative and that all the cases were “their” cases. Staff members also believed that the Collaborative needed to have one leader to oversee the organization and understand the culture.
With the benefit of hindsight, the Collaborative staff identified several strategic decisions that they would recommend altering in the future. First, staff members recommended focusing funding on sustaining the program past the end of the grant, specifically by expanding technical training and outreach work. Second, they would spend time and resources on more training for school personnel— i.e. training all school personnel who deal with behavioral issues rather than a select few from each school. Third, the staff believed the program would have been stronger with an emergency fund, or resources that could be used to address unexpected situations, such as establishing safe houses for youth and families in conflict. Finally, some staff members at the Collaborative suggested that the trauma-informed intervention component should have been at the core of their work. Initially, the Collaborative did not fully understand the extent of trauma young people had experienced. Many had been sexually assaulted and others had experienced the loss of an older sibling or friend due to violence. The program staff recommended the creation of a trauma protocol with training for workers who needed to deal with these issues. A trauma-informed approach should have been integrated into the program from the very beginning.
FINDING AND KEEPING THE RIGHT OUTREACH WORKERS
The Collaborative struggled to maintain a core group of outreach workers able to balance youth work and professional accountability. Experienced outreach workers in the office sometimes struggled to collaborate with other non-experienced staff members. Additionally, Collaborative leadership found that training without street experience was insufficient for staff to fully comprehend the issues they would confront in the neighborhood. Staff members with the most street experience, however, often presented the greatest management challenges. Some of the most experienced outreach workers resisted using the structured mediation and outreach strategies until they were forced to try them. Outreach workers from outside the community also found it difficult to navigate community politics and to build the relationships they would need to work in local schools.
Some on the Collaborative staff felt over-burdened as the grant period drew to a close and staff members began to leave. The strain on the remaining workers became noticeable as outreach workers were required to cover multiple schools and neighborhoods at the same time. The relationships outreach workers had created with youth kept them coming to programming at the Collaborative. Unfortunately, it was difficult for the dwindling outreach team to connect with new cases and to set up long-term plans. In retrospect, the Collaborative could have focused on having departing outreach workers connect their cases with other programs at other organizations (such as GED programs) before they left so that these youth were positively engaged elsewhere when the OJJDP funding ended.
In general, staff members got along very well, had good relationships with each other, and were a source of support for each other. However, there was some tension between the staff and leadership. The frequent turnover of the CST director position was one ongoing challenge that lasted throughout the entire grant period. While some staff members believed directors moved on to new career opportunities, other believed personality clashes were responsible for director turnover. The outreach response manager and the outreach manager had done the work for so long that they were able to facilitate the transition whenever a new director joined. They understood what needed to happen on a ground level from outreach worker and managerial perspectives. This helped ease the impact that changes in leadership had on staff so that it was not too disruptive to their work. However, the outreach response manager did have to take on some more responsibilities and had to bring the new director up to speed each time. The outreach response manager and the outreach manager had to assume additional writing and reporting tasks and they participated in meetings that the director would have managed, which took away from their time working with the outreach staff and program participants.
As a result of staff turnover, some outreach workers felt they were constantly adjusting to the vision of a new director. Different directors had different styles and requirements for paperwork and reporting. Some staff members felt that they were forced to sacrifice outreach time in the community in order to learn yet another new set of reporting requirements. Despite having to navigate different views from management, outreach workers sometimes continued to work in the neighborhoods based on their own vision of outreach, which may have caused issues with Collaborative leadership.
Staff members at the office often held different views of these issues. Some believed the Collaborative was well-managed because they had successfully built relationships with their partners and worked to achieve the best outcomes for participants. Other staff members believed that the high-level leadership simply did not have enough street experience to understand the different interactions, exchanges, and expectations of urban communities. Some tensions arose between management and outreach workers due to this lack of mutual understanding.
Outreach workers believed the Collaborative hired them to be professional outreach workers, but then expected them to turn off their street outreach demeanor in the office. If a client were speaking to them with an attitude in the office, some outreach workers felt that it was appropriate and effective for them to respond back in an equally passionate manner. Management told them they could not respond that way. It was frustrating for outreach workers who felt management was undermining their ability to be well-respected in the neighborhoods, since management lacked the worker’s street experience and credibility. Simultaneously, it was challenging for Collaborative leadership to supervise outreach workers and foster their development while also giving them autonomy on the ground. In future programs, it would be beneficial for management to better understand what happens on the ground level so that they could better manage the outreach team at the office. This could be accomplished by the manager or director occasionally shadowing direct service staff.
The Collaborative struggled with funding challenges throughout the grant period. As with any grant, staff members know that there was a definite end date with no guarantee of continued funding. This introduced uncertainty to the work as the grant period progressed. Agency personnel spent so much time searching for grant funding that it became difficult for them to pursue a consistent mission over time. Even when additional funding was secured, this led to a second challenge—programs had to evolve and adapt to fit the requirements of a new granting body. This in turn influenced the strategies employed and the programs offered so that they could simultaneously pursue their mission while staying within the restrictions of the new grants. According to some staff members, the ongoing adjustments drained the focus and energy of the current project.
Upon completion of the OJJDP grant, the Collaborative ceased its CST program and reverted focus back to the family unit (rather than youth). Although funding only lasted for three years, it provided the Collaborative with the ability to create a unique platform focused on youth at risk for violence. After the Collaborative was no longer active in a way that allowed it to provide information on gang related issues, the range and type of services it could offer also narrowed. Schools and the Metropolitan Police Department noticed this gap, as they had come to rely on Collaborative staff to facilitate relationships among these agencies, youth, and their families.
Staff believed that the core of the program would persevere based largely on the strength and importance of its work and outcomes. With the end of OJJDP funding, however, Collaborative staff was no longer available to continue responding to critical incidents in their former catchment area or provide outreach services to youth. There were a few staff members available to assist with this work, but only on a much smaller scale. Collaborative staff stated that they would try and find a way to help with old cases if any youth returned needing additional help, but there was no official plan in place to do this. After the end of the grant period, former Collaborative outreach workers continued to receive calls from youth. In these instances, former outreach workers connected youth to other current outreach workers in the area and contacted schools to inform them of possible issues. The Executive Director noted that it was now the role of the school system and local agencies to manage youth violence and provide additional support.
Several aspects of the CST strategy proved particularly effective and would be useful in future youth violence intervention strategies. Foremost was the Collaborative’s success in finding outreach workers who developed good relationships with youth and kept them engaged in programming. Despite some difficulties along the way, the Collaborative was able to maintain an effective group of outreach workers who successfully implemented outreach approach.
Another strength was the effective implementation of specific services, such as employment assistance, critical incident response, and therapeutic interventions. The Collaborative used Solution-Focused Brief Therapy and Family Group Conferencing; these proved to be strong points of the Collaborative’s strategy. These methods enabled clients to use their existing strengths to cope with struggles in their lives—skills that clients could continue to develop even after they no longer worked with the Collaborative.
The Collaborative’s strength-based approach helped to lessen the stigma of mental health intervention in the community. The staff highlighted client strengths, acknowledging how difficult it was for them to go through trauma without counseling, and showed them how outside help could benefit them in traumatic situations. Family group conferencing helped participants to find sources of strength in their families and to address the root causes of gang membership. Family Group Counseling filled a gap left by other youth-serving organizations, which assumed youth were disconnected from their families and left families out of the gang intervention process. Clients felt the Collaborative cared more about them when services were provided for both them and their families.
The Collaborative’s connections with school, good relationships with hospitals, and access to grief counseling enhanced the overall effectiveness of CST. By spending time in schools and in hospitals, the Collaborative staff learned information about potential gang violence that was not available on the streets. They relied on multiple sources and were more effective in preventing violence incidents. Staff members maintained their contacts with participants via cellphone 24 hours a day. This constant availability to clients strengthened the model.
The Collaborative hoped for additional phases of the CST project, but could not plan for a long-term transition without additional funds. Some staff members said that the Collaborative did not plan as well as it should have for the end of the OJJDP grant. They could have, for example, turned to local city government sources to ask for more funding. The Collaborative attempted to train other partner organizations (e.g., LAYC) to take over its violence intervention work, but building that capacity proved to be difficult. The Collaborative’s strategy was to identify best practices and then integrate these practices into the existing infrastructure of partnering agencies who could continue the work once OJJDP funding ended. There were other partners interested in continuing the work, but they lacked the necessary infrastructure. Some of the organizations that initially claimed they could intervene in violent situations were not willing to do so in particularly dangerous situations.
By focusing on small areas of the city, the Collaborative maximized its impact in a short period. As a result of these efforts, the Collaborative received funding to implement Project Safe Neighborhoods in Ward 7 after the end of the OJJDP grant and to build the capacity of the area with the Justice Grants Administration and the U.S. Attorney’s office. Collaborative members felt a strong base was created at home allowing them to share what the Collaborative as a whole had learned and implement similar work across the city.
Nevertheless, by 2014, no funding existed to sustain the youth-centered strategies employed under the OJJDP grant. The Collaborative attempted to galvanize stakeholders, government agencies, and community-based organizations to sustain some of the strategies and activities. For example, they worked with council members and other key partners to ensure that the Safe Passages program would be sustained after OJJDP funding ceased. Through Safe Passages, the Collaborative learned about where the crime hot spots were, where the issues were, and what environmental events played a part in violence. They also publicized the success stories of key individuals from the community who were associated with violence and had become more educated, job ready and drug free. The staff did not want this valuable information to go to waste, but without continued funding their efforts eventually had to end.
The CST program was a significant initiative offering alternative paths to successful lives for young people in Washington, DC’s highest risk neighborhoods. According to the staff, youth living in these areas were often fatalistic about violence. According to one staff member, young people often discussed their participation in violence by saying, “I live here, and I know how to survive here. If I lived somewhere else, maybe my behavior would be different.”
Program workers tried to show young people that there was hope and that they could expect more from their lives if they learned to make different choices. The Collaborative staff believed that client outreach was the most successful part of the CST program. Providing youth with support and strength-based interventions created social connections and a sense of empowerment for youth. Outreach workers believed that these important social assets provided youth with a new perspective and a determination to opt out of gangs and crews.
The evaluation failed to find clear evidence that the CST program had a strong effect on neighborhood violence, but this was largely due to the limited data available from city agencies. Despite data limitations, the study was able to confirm that: 1) violence in the program areas of DC was generally in decline by the end of the OJJDP grant period; 2) the drop in violence appeared to be more pronounced among juveniles living in the areas of Washington, DC that were served by the Columbia Heights / Shaw Family Support Collaborative.
Tomberg, Kathleen A. and Jeffrey A. Butts (2016). Street by Street: Cross-Site Evaluation of the OJJDP Community-Based Violence Prevention Demonstration Program. New York, NY: Research and Evaluation Center, John Jay College of Criminal Justice, City University of New York.