March 23–27 is National Youth Violence Prevention Awareness Week. The week offers an excellent opportunity for public health practitioners to think about the critical role we play in preventing youth violence. It challenges each of us to think about how our efforts are, or could be, impacting this important public health issue.
Youth violence, a leading cause of injury, disability, and premature death, is a serious public health threat in the United States, jeopardizing the health and safety of our nation’s youth. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it is the third leading cause of death for young people between the ages of 15 and 24. In 2012, 4,787 young people aged 10 to 24 years were victims of homicide—an average of 13 each day. The same year, more than 599,000 young people aged 10 to 24 years had physical assault injuries treated in U.S. emergency departments—an average of 1,642 each day.
Youth violence is preventable, not inevitable. NACCHO’s recent youth violence prevention policy statement highlights the critical role that local health departments (LHDs) play in preventing youth violence. LHDs can help to prevent youth violence by increasing the capacity of public health and local communities to more effectively address the problem; supporting and building partnerships across community sectors; implementing comprehensive evidenced-based prevention strategies by identifying and advocating for multi-disciplinary policies, programs, and strategies that are effective; conducting surveillance and research by collecting high-quality data on the magnitude of the problem; and raising public awareness of the issue.
Youth violence prevention has been an important issue for the City of Minneapolis Health Department for nearly a decade. From 2002 to 2011, homicide was the leading cause of death among Minneapolis residents age 15–24 years, accounting for 39% of deaths in this age group. As a result of a peak in juvenile homicides and violent crime, in 2006 the city took action by passing a resolution declaring youth violence a public health issue. In 2008, the city launched the multi-faceted, multi-sector, multi-year plan Blueprint for Action: Preventing Youth Violence (the Blueprint). The Blueprint takes a public health approach, is population-based, and treats youth violence as an epidemic, such as tuberculosis, polio, or cancer.
Minneapolis furthered its youth violence prevention efforts in 2012 by joining the National Forum on Youth Violence Prevention, a federal initiative established at the direction of President Obama in 2010 and coordinated by the Department of Justice. The forum is a network of cities and federal agencies that work together, share information, and build local capacity to more effectively address youth violence. The forum’s strategic planning process provided the framework for engaging community partners and collecting and sharing relevant data and information. The 2013 edition of the Blueprint sets forth five goals:
- Foster violence-free social environments;
- Promote positive opportunities and connections to trusted adults for all youth;
- Intervene with youth and families at the first sign of risk;
- Restore youth who have gone down the wrong path; and
- Protect children and youth from violence in the community.
The Blueprint is a community-driven, grassroots response to the issue of youth violence. The goals are a framework under which many programs, services, and efforts coalesce. This collaborative, multi-level approach integrates programming that is designed to serve diverse populations.
Over the last five years, with broad citywide collaboration and community support, the Blueprint’s guiding principles have been used to create numerous youth violence prevention initiatives, including the following: North4, a collaboration between the city and Emerge Community Development to engage and employ gang-affiliated youth; Picturing Peace, a partnership between Hennepin County Libraries and the Downtown Improvement District for youth to document their hopes for peace through photography; and BUILD, a youth development curriculum that promotes social and emotional learning and fosters positive decision-making to prevent gang activity. These collective efforts and many others have made a significant impact on preventing youth violence in Minneapolis. From 2006 to 2012, violent crime among youth in Minneapolis decreased 57%, incidents with guns among youth decreased 67%, youth homicides decreased 60%, and youth gun-related assault injuries decreased 62%.
Minneapolis continues to try new and innovative public health approaches to address youth violence prevention. The work done to date demonstrates that a coordinated plan, designed in partnership with various stakeholders, can have an impact on youth violence.
To learn more about youth violence prevention, visit NACCHO’s injury and violence prevention webpage.