Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Youth violence strategy starts to gel


With summer quickly approaching, a short-term strategy to reduce youth violence being formulated by a core group of community leaders is starting to take shape.
At yesterday’s meeting of the strategy planning committee, Fred Razo described progress made on creating educational plans for at-risk youth through the summer, in addition to linking them with a variety of family and youth service agencies in the community.

“We are confident,” said Razo, the County Education Office’s director of juvenile court and community schools. “I don’t think this committee, or anyone in this room, believes this problem is overwhelming.”
Although initially envisioned as involving just 45 youth, Razo said due to the creation of a new student data system that will facilitate access to academic information such as attendance records, credits and transcripts, the summer pilot program will be able to serve up to 100 teens.
Tomorrow, Razo and others involved in the short-term strategy, including Santa Barbara Police Chief Cam Sanchez, will meet with school counselors to discuss students who are being targeted with the program.
A deadline of June 6 is set to deliver a support plan to those students via a session with their school counselor and family.
“We’re in a rush,” Sanchez said. “Summer is upon us.”
At that point, counselors and a youth specialist will begin administering a triage of support services, hooking up the kids with various agencies throughout the community, enrolling them in summer school if necessary, and possibly finding them jobs or internships with local businesses.
Alejandra Gutierrez, a career technician at Santa Barbara High School who has been designated to serve as the youth specialist for the pilot program, has already started working with a group of at-risk girls and their families, Sanchez said.
Another youth advocate position is being advertised by Santa Barbara County Education for the summer program, school officials said, designed to work in tandem with Gutierrez.
Using a set of indicators, such as attendance, grade point average and weekly progress reports, Razo said the success of the pilot program will be measured in late June and again in August.
Nancy Rapp, the city’s director of parks and recreation, pressed committee members to designate a contact person to handle youth job and internship placement and urged them to get the ball rolling in order to handle necessary paperwork in time for summer employment.
However, Sanchez emphasized that employing at-risk youth through the summer program is the lowest priority, topped by handling violence, substance abuse and educational problems, among other issues.
“At the very bottom of our list is jobs,” he said. “We have so many other things we need to do first.”
Work on an inventory of youth service providers is also moving along, said Bill Batty, executive director of the Family Services Agency. Since sending out draft versions of the directory two weeks ago, he has received input and numerous edits.
A more finalized version should be completed this week and city staff will get to work on translating the document into Spanish. Batty said his staff is also working on a pocket guide that should be available within a few weeks.
The committee also heard a presentation from health educator Saul Serrano about Los Compadres and Las Comadres, parallel programs that focus on serving young men and women countywide.
By offering free services and guidance on pregnancy prevention, domestic violence prevention, male responsibility, creating positive role models and a multitude of other topics, Serrano said the organization has been successful in helping the at-risk youth population.
Many of the 400 men and women served countywide by Los Compadres and Las Comadres have multiple risk factors, such as STDs, violence, drug abuse and identity issues.
“Usually a lot of them don’t have a father … or have a stepfather that they don’t have a relationship with,” Serrano said.
Through group sessions, one-on-one meetings, retreats, parenting classes, drop-in centers and restorative justice services, youth mentors such as Serrano teach honesty, trust, respect and love.
“This is not just a job,” he said, “it’s a way of life.”
Some of the challenges facing the organization are a need for more trained staff and a Las Comadres program for girls in the South County, as well as leadership and employment opportunities for youth.
Finally, the strategy planning committee heard from a representative of the Collaborative Communities Foundation, another local organization working on the youth violence issue.
Laura Inks described how the CCF has been conducting surveys in schools and youth clubs and has a series of parent gatherings planned for the next few weeks. A community forum on May 29 involving youth and those who work “in the trenches” with at-risk teens will be focused on giving a voice to the youth.
“Letting them see that their voices can be heard,” Inks said.
Departing from its biweekly schedule, the strategy planning committee will hold its next meeting on June 9 with updates on the summer pilot program and inventory on the agenda.

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