We’ve heard it said a million times that children are the future. Yet with violence resulting in incarceration, severe disability or death for thousands of young people each year, these idealized futures can be over before they begin. Sometimes, it seems, we skip a step by not realizing that the future is only possible if we focus on the present. What does it say about the overall health and prosperity of our communities if we don’t maximize and leverage all of our resources to help the most vulnerable members of our society – our children? How do we tolerate even one youth homicide in our neighborhoods? How do we not ensure that every young person feels safe at night?
I am excited to live in a city that appreciates young people; a city that recognizes the positive impact youth can have on quality of life for everyone. This commitment to children is one of the reasons I was interested in working and living in Boston. Here I have the ability to use my social work background to advocate for social justice at all levels, while working to address the unique needs of each young person that I have the privilege to serve.
To truly make a difference in the field of youth violence prevention, I believe we must adopt a broad view. We must look at the underlying root causes of youth violence and find ways to address them. This is a complex and multi-faceted issue. We shouldn’t expect that it will be resolved solely by law enforcement, nor should it focus solely on the young people. In the big picture, youth violence prevention work also needs to focus on strengthening families. Helping parents get what they need to lead strong and healthy households is an essential step to creating safe and nurturing environments where young people can develop and thrive.
In our work at YouthConnect, a program of Boys & Girls Clubs of Boston in partnership with the Boston Police Department, we take this holistic approach and can measure the results. YouthConnect’s clinical social workers are based inside police districts with the highest rates of youth crime. We work with teens and their families identified by officers who have concerns about their well-being– whether it is for carrying a weapon, being part of a gang, truancy, being a victim of community violence, or substance abuse. In this voluntary relationship, YouthConnect social workers work to improve teens’ overall functioning at home, school and in the community, while working to improve the overall stability of the family.
At YouthConnect, our central values are that:
- All young people are unique and all have strengths to build upon,
- Children are part of families and families need to be supported,
- The guidance and support of a trusting professional adult can help access other services and resources,
- All aspects of an individual – the social, emotional, and physical well- being must be nurtured,
- Change is possible, but takes time,
- One program or agency can’t do it alone.
We know that we can create a strong network of support for high risk and proven risk youth AND their families through partnerships and collaborations with city and state agencies, the business community, academic and faith-based institutions and other community-based organizations. The city of Boston recognizes the importance of these public/private partnerships and provides enormous support in our efforts help children and families across the city. I am excited and honored to be part of these committed and effective youth violence prevention efforts.
To learn more about YouthConnect, please visit: www.bgcb.org/locations_yspn.cfm
Andrea Perry, Executive Director of YouthConnect, a program of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Boston in partnership with the Boston Police Department, has counseled youth victims of community violence, assisted gang-involved teens to get connected to academic and employment opportunities, and helped hundreds of youth and families obtain access to the resources necessary to strengthen their lives.