Exposure to community violence has an affect on academic and health outcomes for At-Risk Youths. I will provide the reader with proof, using documented studies and personal references, of the academic and /or health risks, due to violence that perpetuates environmental and physiological factors that attribute to youth development.
According to the (U.S. Census Bureau, 2003), youths in the U.S. represent 26% of the population and account for 50% of victims of violent acts. A census study was composed of 13-18 year olds asked to share personal stories about their experiences with violence. College-aged youths show 93-100% to have witnessed violence at some point in their lives, (Gorman Smith and Henry Tolan, 2004). Research shows that regular exposure to violence is associated with psychological difficulties, language and development skills associated with poor education and juvenile justice problems. Exposure of community violence is also a factor surrounding family problems, drug abuse, alcohol abuse, suicide attempts, economic pressure, drop -out rates and gang activity. According to (The U.S. Department of Education, 1997) and (Dodge, Pettit, Bates, 1997; Kendall-Tackett, Williams & Finkelhor, 1993), exposure to community violence is twice more likely amongst African Americans than any other race.
Several organizations are in place to reduce the effects of exposure to violence and health concerns; they include Human Services, U.S. Department of Education, and Community Development Agencies and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. There is a definite urgency because of the social indicators, such as education, income and employment status that are determined to be more indicative of child abuse and neglect than race or ethnicity. There are also health related issues associate with HIV and victims of child abuse and neglect.
Although I believe that exposure to violence affects our youth, another argument could be that there are some personal strengths and positive attributes. In referencing youths who have experienced such violence by way of physical and mental health risks, careful thinking and planning, leadership, determination and perseverance are some of the evident qualities. One need only ask the question, “Can violence occur in the community and the youth not be exposed to it?” Although this is not normally the case, there are experiences of structured home environments where the youths cannot associate, outside of school activities. I witnessed, in my urban neighborhood, a schoolteacher who chose to isolate her son from the other children around him; she did this by sending him clear across town to a private school and allowed him to socialize with only those individuals that attended that same school. He lived in the midst of a violent community but had no association. He is a very successful lawyer today. Another question would be, “Can a youth develop a positive self-appointed role within a dysfunctional environment where relationships and events may occur?” Many youths who are classified as victims rather than indentified as being in need of services, may be a more positive aspect of exposure to violence in a given community. I had a friend once that took on the role of the parent to her younger siblings because her mother was on drugs and never in the home. She cooked for her younger sisters and brothers and made sure they were in school, each day, on time. She developed an optimal sense of identity and well being in order to keep her family together.
There are several recommendations for addressing the effects of family and community. According to a journal written by Dexter R. Voisin of the University of Chicago entitled: (The Effects of family and Community Violence Exposure Among Youth: Recommendations For Practice and Policy), those recommendations are to Increase Public Awareness, Improve Detection and Intervention, Increase Provision of Evidence-Based Intervention, Youth Exposure to Violence, Locate Mental Health Service and Enhance Coordination Services and Collaborations.
There is a passage taken from (Teaching Social Skills to Youth) by Tom Dowd, M.A., and Jeff Tierney, M. Ed. that sums up my issue. “As human beings we live in social groups. We learn that there are consequences that are both positive and negative that are attached to how we interact with others and how we choose to respond in social situations. The lessons learned at each stage in child development should become tools used to meet the demands of subsequent stages of life but somehow are not”
In closing, although there are many contributing factors in the exposure and violence that affect At-Risk-Youth, the negative factors largely out weigh the positive. We must continue to study and develop ideas and create programs to rid ourselves of the many problematic events that promote and continue to add to the exposure and violence that affect our youth.