Abstract and Research Question
Most young people in Worcester are healthy, productive, and contribute to their community. They are on a path toward a secure and successful adulthood. However, there is a subset of young people—disproportionately Black and Latino males living in the city’s most distressed neighborhoods—who enter a cycle of violence at an extremely early age. Our aim with this report is to provide Worcester residents and decision-makers with data and frameworks that will help the community prioritize areas for action and identify solutions to reduce youth and gang violence. We acknowledge the excellent prevention work happening in the city and with this report we hope to shed light on the needs of the relatively small percentage of young people who are falling through the cracks of the prevention sector. Key findings of this report include:
- Community, school, family, and individual risk factors known to contribute to youth violence and gang involvement are quite prevalent in Worcester:
- Family residential instability and economic stress
- Youth and adult unemployment
- Early childhood trauma
- Generational cycles of gang and criminal involvement
- Distressed built environment coupled with limited neighborhood recreational activities
- School climate and punitive discipline policies
- Youth mental health, substance abuse, and exposure to violence
- Worcester has a strong prevention sector and emerging programs for proven-risk young men. However, the location and types of community resources and the location of violent crime hotspots have been persistent over time. Business as usual is insufficient to address gang and youth violence. Worcester needs a strategic, coordinated plan to addressing youth and gang violence because currently we have siloes instead of systems. We also need to build trust and respect between families and providers to counter families’ isolation and disconnection from resources.
- Given these findings, Worcester needs to prioritize the following possible directions for action:
- A concerted focus on early childhood health, education, and overall wellbeing
- Restorative Justice approaches in schools and the community that can divert young people from entering the juvenile justice system
- Significant street outreach presence to interrupt violence and connect young people to resources
- Effective community-based sanctions for those awaiting trial or on probation in the community
- Effective reentry programs that support young men coming back into the community and reduce the likelihood of recidivism
- Trauma-sensitive services and environments
There is potential for early identification and diversion at various stages of a young person’s life. Not taking action has costs not only for the victims and perpetrators of violence, but for our community as a whole. We look forward to the community conversations that will take place in response to this report. We hope to incorporate the lived experiences of residents to complement this analysis and help us move towards action. We are convinced that through dialogue and concerted collaborative work, we can transform these community conditions for the betterment of everyone who lives and works in Worcester.
Did the research upon which this submission is based involve human subjects/participants?
Was the work submitted part of a class?
Community Needs and Resources Analysis
When did the project/research take place?
Ross, Laurie and Foley, Ellen, "Worcester Youth Violence Prevention & Reduction Strategic Plan: Needs and Resources Analysis" (2014). Local Knowledge: Worcester Area Community-Based Research. 5.