List Highlights Youth Anti-Violence Programs

From the WebMD Archives

April 28, 2000 -- One year after the Columbine high school shooting, many parents still worry and feel helpless about their children's safety when they walk out the door or climb on the school bus. If nothing else, Columbine's perpetrators and victims that demonstrated no one is insulated from violence, and acts of this nature are not just the province of the poor. "Columbine showed us all it can happen anywhere," Lisa Barrios, PhD, tells WebMD. Barrios is a health scientist at the CDC.

In the aftermath of Columbine -- and other recent violent acts aimed at youth -- many parents have wondered what the federal government is doing to respond to violence in our nation's schools. To calm at least some of their fears, Barrios has compiled a list of federal resources available to school and government officials, as well as parents, to develop strategies for curbing and preventing violence in schools. The inventory, which is published as a special report in the April 2000 issue of the Journal of School Health, provides not only available federal resources but also examples of and links to successful programs communities have implemented. All told, the inventory lists more than 100 projects from various federal government departments and agencies, including grassroots efforts receiving government funding.

Barrios says many different federal agencies are involved in different aspects of curbing youth violence. "The problem is very complex, and you can't expect one kind of approach to really prevent it all." As a result, there are programs under the direction of the Departments of Justice, Housing and Urban Development (HUD), Health, Labor, and others. "In many cases, there may be overlap and one may not know what the other is doing," says Barrios. "One of the key reasons we started this is all the agencies were trying to work on the problem, and we couldn't keep good track of it all." Today, all the programs are supposed to report to the White House Council of Youth Violence.

So far, the inventory gathered by the CDC lists programs aimed at preventing violence children may face on the way to school, in class, and at school-related events. Programs listed focus on factors that may lead to violence, symptoms of violence, and how to prevent antisocial behavior.

A few examples of federally sponsored programs include one in Charlotte, N.C. A team including parts of the University of North Carolina, the school district, police department, local housing authority, and residents association has developed a Family Action and Support for Teens (FAST) Team. The team developed a coordinated plan to provide each adolescent in the neighborhood with needed services and a network of support to help them make healthy choices. Parents, teachers, police officers, and other adults refer children to the FAST Team and, after the referral, they become a member of that child's 'team.'

The project has developed a health program for adolescents in target neighborhoods, addressing topics such as contraception, sexuality, and coping skills. One component of the health program is basic health screening, with follow-up referrals to a community partner, Teen Health Connection. Student family nurse practitioners from the university work with Teen Health Connection to provide primary care for the teens.

Likewise, in Tonawanda, N.Y., near Buffalo, government officials wanted to get the whole community involved in improving the Sheridan Parkside neighborhood. Specifically, they hoped to reduce youth crime and to improve communication between neighborhood groups by improving relations between police, youth, landlords, and tenants, and to increase recreational opportunities to provide youth with positive activities.

Funded by a grant from HUD and county and local government sources, the town expanded youth recreation services, extended community policing hours, and initiated organizations of landlords and tenants in a neighborhood where tenants outnumber homeowners. A semiannual newsletter was distributed in the neighborhood, providing information on parenting tips, news of local events, and information about programs and agencies. It also provided additional housing inspection services to encourage landlords to improve their rental properties.

According to the most recent statistics, crime in the Tonawanda area was reduced by 20%, with youth crime down 28%. Thanks to greater citizen involvement, police calls have been reduced by 22%.

Barrios says the database is just the beginning. "This is an evolving document. I'm sure we're missing some federal activities. There are always new grant programs being announced, or research studies starting up. I'm hoping that getting it out means some of the agencies we didn't hear back from will see it and provide information."

Copies of the Federal Resource inventory are available online at

Vital Information:

  • CDC researchers compiled an inventory of government resources available to help communities control violence among young people. The report is published in the April 2000 issue of the Journal of School Health.
  • Some communities are using federal funds to establish violence prevention programs. Organizers report they're seeing benefits such as drops in crime and calls to police.
  • The federal researchers add that the inventory process is ongoing, as there probably have been resources missed during the first compilation and other resources have become available after it was published.