Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Leaders praise work on youth violence

BY ERIC LINDBERG
DAILY SOUND STAFF WRITER

While community leaders are expected to unveil a long-term strategy to reduce youth violence on the South Coast early next month, officials gave Santa Barbara leaders a sneak preview yesterday that was met with a mix of praise and advice.

Since a gang-related stabbing death on State Street last year, the city has made youth violence a top priority, City Administrator Jim Armstrong said, describing boosts to police and youth recreation budgets, reactivated police bike patrols, increased gang sweeps, and more youth programs and jobs.
Perhaps most significant, officials said, was the launch of a collaborative strategy planning group in March 2008 that included representatives from law enforcement, youth support agencies, schools and nonprofits.
“We have formed a very strong working group that has done a great deal of positive work on structuring an organization that will have a chance at institutionalizing a long-term effort,” said Don Olson, the city’s director of special projects. “It’s rolling and we feel very good about that.”
The planning group decided to focus on approximately 750 local teens identified as high-risk or gang-affiliated — devising strategies in the areas of enforcement, education, support services, recreation and employment.
“In many cases, we need to find jobs for a lot of these kids,” Armstrong said. “They need to be involved in gainful employment.”
Officials formed a short-term strategy group that began working on a summer program for a small group of local youth.
Through referrals from parents, law enforcement or youth workers, the committee recruited 82 teens to participate in the program, said Fred Razo, the County Education Office’s director of juvenile court and community schools.
Caseworkers began providing support services, analyzing academic standing and developing individualized plans for each of those youth, he said.
Sometimes that involved taking tours of Santa Barbara City College or providing individual tutors to help with summer schoolwork. Other times it simply meant giving a teen a ride to football practice.
“It was building that relationship with these young people,” Razo said.
He said data on the success of the summer initiative, such as school attendance figures and the academic standing of those involved, should be available within two weeks.
In the meantime, Armstrong said, another group has been working on a long-term model designed to institutionalize a collaborative effort to tackle violence among local youth.
On Sept. 9, the subcommittee will give more details on how that long-term strategy is envisioned, he said, describing the model in general terms.
In addition to developing a permanent leadership structure to ensure long-term financial support, Armstrong said the group plans to create a regular forum to foment better communication and collaboration between local agencies.
Building on the summer model of using youth specialists who can connect with teens is also in the stars, he said, as well as establishing measurement tools to monitor progress.
“I have to tell you, there is going to be a price tag on this,” he warned the council. “This is going to take some effort.”
Once the strategy is given the green light by members of the strategy planning committee, he said the group plans to approach city and county officials to get their buy-in before beginning to implement the model.
Councilmember Helene Schneider, while cautioning that finding a way to fund the program in perpetuity will be the big question mark in the coming years, said community leaders deserve praise for their work thus far.
“The amount of political will and ongoing commitment you’ve had in terms of trying to wrap around such a complex issue as this is incredible,” she said.
Councilmember Das Williams agreed that funding presents the largest issue for the long-term strategy.
“I do not believe that we have yet figured out how to sustain funding at an adequate level to truly reduce gang violence,” he said.
City officials also discussed a response to a County Grand Jury report that many leaders pegged as the definitive work on youth violence in Santa Barbara during the past decade.
“It is truly a blow-by-blow, incredibly accurate summation of what happened,” Councilmember Iya Falcone said. “…I think that the jury nailed it.”
After tinkering with the language in certain sections, the council voted unanimously to submit its response to the report, largely in agreement with a series of recommendations that include establishing a permanent entity to oversee coordination of youth programs.
The report also recommended maintaining financial support for law enforcement and recreation programs, funding community policing efforts, and improving collaboration between schools, law enforcement and nonprofit support agencies — suggestions all embraced by the council.

1 comment:

Mark M. Alvarado said...

Funding will come by demonstrating successful outcomes during the early stages of implementation of the community's strategies.

This is why it is a good practice to phase in programs and services that can have immediate support and resources.

Once a proven track record for success is established, funding and sustainability will follow because the community can say this is what we've been doing versus this is what we need or want to do. Funders gravitate towards successful models.

Communication, coordination and trust at all levels will be your early indicators for success.

You will always have your critics, get beyond that and work with those who are willing to open their doors.

This is an exercise of outreach and trust and sounds like a good start.