March 24, 2012
by Jeffrey A. Butts, Kathleen Tomberg, Douglas Evans, and Rhoda Ramdeen (John Jay College of Criminal Justice) and Caterina Roman and Caitlin Taylor (Temple University)
The National Forum on Youth Violence Prevention is designed to promote greater coordination and effectiveness in violence prevention efforts across community and organizational systems, including law enforcement, juvenile and criminal courts, schools, social services, mental health, and a wide variety of neighborhood and community-based organizations. The federal partners involved in the National Forum began the initiative in 2010 by recruiting the first six participating cities and sponsoring a series of meetings and workshops attended by inter-agency and cross-sector leadership teams from each of those cities.
Each city involved in the National Forum pledged to develop a comprehensive plan for reducing youth violence, either by building entirely new approaches or by adapting and enhancing existing local initiatives. The cities’ plans were unveiled at the April 2011 Summit on Preventing Youth Violence in Washington, DC. Their efforts were guided by the National Forum’s logic model and focused on a number of key outcomes, including broader collaboration and coordination with community partners, adherence to data-driven approaches, better awareness and use of private and public funding resources, and expanded youth access to opportunities and assets related to positive youth development.
The National Forum on Youth Violence Prevention is not a highly structured, manual-driven program. It is a general strategy for reforming and reorganizing communities and systems. The National Forum is designed as a collaborative, goal-oriented partnership between federal, state, and local officials, practitioners, treatment providers, and communities. Each city shares the National Forum’s goal of developing more comprehensive and integrated approaches, but the leadership team in each city is free to pursue its own strategies depending on the circumstances of the community.
The localized nature of the National Forum increases the likelihood that the strategies designed by each city will be accepted and sustained by communities, but it also complicates the assessment of the Forum itself. As each city follows a different course of action with varying emphases, it is impossible to fashion detailed measures of implementation that collect the same information in the same way in each location. Instead, the assessment project surveys public officials and community members about their general perceptions of youth violence and the effectiveness of local efforts to prevent and reduce it.
This first report from the Implementation Assessment includes information collected through the research team’s interviews and site visits to each of the cities participating in the National Forum and it provides the initial findings from the project’s online surveys. The first round of surveys was administered beginning in June 2011, and the second was launched in February 2012. Thus, this report describes the changes perceived by respondents during a period of eight months in the early phases of implementation.
This report shows that, not surprisingly, changes are slow to come. There were no profound improvements in the perceptions of the residents in any of the six National Forum cities. There were, however, a large number of positive indicators. Across all six cities, survey respondents reported improved perceptions of the effectiveness of law enforcement and social services programs, slightly better collaboration and organizational cooperation, and more support for violence prevention from local officials.
Most importantly, survey respondents in 2012 were less likely than those in 2011 to report increasing levels of violence in the community. Perceptions of gang activity also declined between the first and second survey. In the 2011 survey, 45 percent of survey respondents in all six cities believed that gang activity was becoming more visible in the community. In 2012, this perception was reported by 27 percent of respondents.
Many of the items investigated by the assessment surveys improved slightly between the first and second measurements, and given the brief time period covered by the surveys, this could be interpreted as encouraging news.
On the other hand, when the survey inquired about the National Forum itself, the respondents in 2012 were slightly less positive than they had been in 2011. Several items in the survey asked respondents to indicate whether they believed the National Forum was helping cities to combat violence and to facilitate better coordination of their prevention efforts. Respondents were generally quite positive about the impact of the National Forum, but their answers were slightly less positive in the second survey. This could be interpreted either as a slight decrease in their satisfaction with the National Forum (a negative finding) or as an increase in their expectations of the Forum (a positive finding).
The meaning of these interim results likely will be clearer as the Implementation Assessment continues to collect information about the efforts of each city. The project will conduct a third and final round of surveys in late 2012.
Site Profiles: Interviews and Visits with Cities
Surveys of Participants
For a more recent update, see the final survey results here.