CDC Project Tackles Youth Violence from a Public Health Perspective
April 27, 2012 -- Homicide is the second leading cause of death for people between the ages of 10 and 24, and more than 700,000 people are treated each year in emergency rooms after being victims of violence. Exposure to violence during childhood is also a predictor of chronic illness and poor mental health.
“Violence and the fear of violence impact behavior,” said Rachel Davis, managing director at the Prevention Institute, a nonprofit organization that advocates for violence prevention as a public health issue.
People who live in violent neighborhoods – or neighborhoods they fear are unsafe – are less physically active. They may also make different choices about where they shop or what they eat, or have less access to grocery stores that carry fresh produce because those businesses don't want to relocate to unsafe neighborhoods.
Still, youth violence isn't always thought of as a public health issue – nor is preventing violence a funding priority for many public health departments.
“People for the most part don't widely understand this as a public health issue,” Davis said. “They see it as a criminal justice issue, which is, by definition, after the fact.”
While there’s plenty of research establishing the link between public health outcomes and nonviolent environments, it’s been difficult to get funding to reduce violence.
“Folks say, 'What we really need to do is prevent this before it starts, but there's very little funding,’” said Rebecca Stavenjord, coordinator of Multnomah County's Striving to Reduce Youth Violence Everywhere (STRYVE), a pilot project that’s trying to fill that gap.
Portland is a demonstration site -- along with Houston, Boston and Salinas, Calif. – funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention over the next five years to prevent youth violence. Currently, the project is in phase one, Stavenjord said, and identifying risk and protective factors associated with youth violence.
Stavenjord and her team have been reaching out to youth groups and community health workers, and are particularly interested in speaking with young people who’ve experienced violence.
“We're pretty good at collaborating and pulling groups together,” Stavenjord said. “Over the last few months, we've just assessed where we need to pull additional interventions.”
“The CDC has engaged in violence prevention work for almost 30 years,” said Marci Hertz, director of the violence prevention project for the CDC and project director for STRYVE. “We know it's not inevitable, but preventable.”
Multnomah County officials have done an excellent job of bringing together officials from various governmental agencies, she said, rather than relying on “just one agency telling everyone what to do.”
By involving law enforcement, nonprofit organizations and schools, Stavenjord would like to see an attitude change in the way people view youth violence. Other major shifts in social norms – car seats for children and banning smoking in public places -- came about because of of recommendations from the public health sector, she said.
“This is where the health department can come in and change some social norms that will hopefully affect the rate of violence that affect youth,” Stavenjord said.
Image for this story appears courtesy of The Oregonian.