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Youth Violence Prevention

Youth violence is recognized as a serious health and social problem. Research in the past few decades has brought significant attention to the value of prevention efforts for youth who are at risk for delinquency and violence, as well as efforts that are of benefit to all of society.

Violence cannot and will not be solved "after the fact". While there is a place for law enforcement in the violence cycle, this approach in isolation will not reduce violence.

Effort towards preventing violence "before it occurs" is a necessary component to a community-wide comprehensive youth violence prevention effort.

Violence prevention efforts are commonly presented at three main stages:

  1. Primary Prevention - intended to avoid the initial occurrence of the problem behaviours with universal application to the general population.
  2. Secondary Prevention - designed to intervene with problems that have occurred at an early stage and involves individualized work with youth that are defined as at-risk.
  3. Tertiary Prevention - involves intensive support and intervention with individuals who clearly exhibit problem behaviour.

From this perspective, the entire population is considered, as well as additional attention for those youth that are at increased risk or already involved in violence.

For an example of the application of interventions along these three stages, consider the chart below which shows the similarity between prevention efforts for the flu virus and youth violence:

Flu Youth Violence
Primary Prevention
(Before it Occurs)
Vaccines for all Policy, education and supportive environment for all
Secondary Prevention
(In the Thick)
Targeted vaccine efforts for high risk groups (e.g. babies, elderly) Targeted interventions for high-risk youth (e.g. living in high-crime neighborhoods, low family attachment)
Tertiary Prevention
(After the Fact)
Treat patients who have the flu and limit exposure to others Rehabilitate young offenders and provide services for youth victims of violence

Adapted From: A Public Health Approach to Preventing Violence: FAQ Prevention Institute, 2009.

For a more in-depth look at youth violence prevention across these stages of prevention, please see the Youth Violence Prevention Continuum. This "Continuum" was developed by the Community Health Initiatives Team at the Region of Peel to highlight all of the evidence-based effective and promising strategies for youth violence prevention along these stages of prevention.

Risk and Protective Factors for Youth Violence

From a prevention perspective, it is critical to understand the risk and protective factors for youth violence because this helps to inform the strategies to reduce youth violence.

Personal characteristics and environmental conditions can lend insight to predicting the onset, continuity, or escalation of violence; however, they cannot be deemed as the cause of violence. No single risk factor or set of risk factors is powerful enough to predict with certainty that youths will become violent.

Violence is the result of the complex interplay of individual, relationship, social, cultural and environmental factors, as the following diagram displays.

Within the levels of individual, relationship, community and society, the factors can either be presented as a risk (i.e. increasing the likelihood of being involved in violence) or as protective (i.e. decreasing the likelihood of being involved in violence).

The following table provides more detail into specific risk factors and protective factors at the different levels of influence:

Domain Risk Factors Protective Factors
Individual
  • Being Male
  • Antisocial behaviour/aggression
  • Substance use
  • Being female
  • Positive social orientation
  • Perceived sanctions for transgression
Relationship
  • Poor parent-child relations
  • Poor school attitude/performance
  • Low socio-economic status
  • Antisocial friends
  • Abuse
  • School connectedness
  • Supportive relationships with parent/adults
  • Parental monitoring
  • Parents positive about peers
  • Positive peer group
Community
  • Poor neighbourhood design
  • Negative school climate Neighbourhood crime/drugs
  • Opportunity/resources for youth
  • Safe school climate
Society
  • Social inequality
  • Social norms supporting violence
  • Availability of alcohol
  • Opportunity for social and economic mobility
  • Social norms that reject violence
  • Managed drinking environments

Source: Youth Violence: A Report of the Surgeon General, US Department of Health & Human Services, 2001.

Coordinated and Calculated Efforts

Overall, in order for the Peel community to tackle youth violence prevention in a comprehensive way, we will have to continue to work together and include the following approaches:

  • Maintain a primary prevention orientation (while still being aware of and collaborating with law enforcement efforts)
  • Be data-driven (use approaches that are based on data, describe the nature of the problem, as well as the contributing risk and protective factors)
  • Be collaborative (partners from health, human and social services, education, recreation, mental health, economic development, law enforcement and justice must work together to drive change)
  • Balance population-level solutions with targeted solutions for high risk groups (seek community-wide or "environmental" solutions at the primary prevention level in order to have the greatest effect on the entire population, while simultaneously targeting solutions to sub-groups of the population that are high-risk)

Adapted From: A Public Health Approach to Preventing Violence: FAQ, Prevention Institute, UNITY, 2009.

Reports on Youth Violence Prevention

The following reports provide the background and high-level perspective on youth violence prevention including:

  • Defining and measuring youth violence
  • Determinants of youth violence
  • The magnitude of the problem
  • Evidence for what works to prevent youth violence

These reports, among others, have been influential in the development of the Youth Violence Prevention Continuum.

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