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Scot Wortley, Centre of Criminology, University of Toronto Being Proactive: Supporting Children and Youth Mental Health and Wellness in Schools and Communities.

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Presentation on theme: "Scot Wortley, Centre of Criminology, University of Toronto Being Proactive: Supporting Children and Youth Mental Health and Wellness in Schools and Communities."— Presentation transcript:

1 Scot Wortley, Centre of Criminology, University of Toronto Being Proactive: Supporting Children and Youth Mental Health and Wellness in Schools and Communities Toronto, February 16-17, 2012 The Roots of Controversy: Youth Violence and Crime Prevention in the Canadian Context







8 Presentation Outline Briefly review major patterns and trends in youth violence within the international context. Briefly review the research literature on the “root causes” of youth violence. Briefly discuss what “works” with respect to youth crime prevention and school safety.

9 PUBLIC OPINION The vast majority of Canadians believe that violence has increased dramatically over the past decade. Most feel that violence is particularly high among young offenders (12-17 years of age). Fear of crime is increasing in most major urban Centres in Canada.








17 Percent of Toronto Youth Who Have Ever Experienced Various Types of Victimization Victimization Type StudentStreet Youth Theft Under $5072.177.9 Theft Over $5035.960.1 Property Damage49.857.5 Threatened66.984.7 Weapon Threats28.072.5 Death Threats14.760.3 Assaulted69.681.4 Assault Weapon16.659.5 Minor Sex Assault25.448.3 Major Sex Assault12.440.2

18 Percent of Toronto Youth Who Have Experienced Various Types of Victimization in the Past Year Victimization Type StudentStreet Youth Theft Under $5037.563.1 Theft Over $5015.547.6 Property Damage26.644.5 Threatened39.376.1 Weapon Threats15.559.0 Death Threats8.245.3 Assaulted39.068.7 Assault Weapon7.544.3 Minor Sex Assault13.836.1 Major Sex Assault6.528.8

19 Percent of Students Who Reported Their Worst Victimization Experience

20 Reasons for Not Reporting Victimization Experiences

21 Percent of Students Who Feel Unsafe When Engaging in Selected Activities

22 Disturbing Trends Although official rates of violent crime are low by international standards, Canadian surveys suggest that most young people will experience some form of violent victimization. Most violent victimization incidents are never reported to parents, police or other adult authority figures. Recent data suggests that the “reporting rate” for violent victimization has decreased over the past decade (no snitching). Violent crime is becoming more concentrated among young people (under 30 years of age). Violent victimization is increasingly concentrated among young, minority males from disadvantaged communities.

23 Disturbing Trends Violent crime more likely to take place in public spaces. Violence more likely to involve firearms. Apparent increase in violent gang activity. Bullying is a major problem among children. New forms of violence emerging – virtual bullying. Increased media coverage of serious crime. Increased fear of crime. Increasing economic polarization in major urban centres. The number and size of “poor” communities is increasing. The most economically disadvantaged communities are highly racialized. IS CANADA AT A CROSSROADS?

24 What Causes Youth Violence? The Great Academic Debate Biological theories Psychological theories Child Development theories Rational Choice theories Economic/Strain theories Opportunity theories Social Learning theories Labeling theories Sub-cultural theories Control/Self-control theories Conflict perspectives

25 RISK FACTORS Neurological problems/learning disabilities Early childhood development issues (abuse, neglect, etc.) Poor parenting/parental supervision/fatherlessness Mental health issues Low self-control (need for immediate gratification, etc.) School failure/difficulties Absolute deprivation Relative deprivation Anger/Frustration/Alienation/Hopelessness Deviant peers (exposure to pro-crime values) Violent media (exposure to pro-crime values) Violent victimization (crime as self-help) Criminal opportunities (lack of legitimate opportunities) Labeling (stigmatization, etc.)

26 The Roots of Youth Violence Youth Violence The Mid- Level Roots The Deep Roots The Surface Roots

27 The “Deep” Roots Historical Factors (colonialism, slavery, etc.) Structural Factors (the economy) Social inequality

28 The “Mid-Level” Roots Community design and development Community crime and disorder Victimization Peer influences Educational issues Family Issues Contemporary racism Lack of economic opportunity Issues within the criminal justice system

29 The Surface Roots: Immediate Risk Factors Impulsivity Low self-esteem Lack of empathy Social alienation Perceptions of social injustice (external attributions of blame) Hopelessness/Depression Lack of Voice/Cultural isolation

30 Diverse Pathways to Youth Violence Early Onset/Lifetime Persistent Late Onset/Adolescent Limited Late Onset/Adult Persistent Do different types of youth require different prevention strategies?

31 The Prevention Controversy “Tough on Crime” advocates put an emphasis on detection, deterrence, denunciation and incapacitation. “Soft on Crime” advocates call for an emphasis on intervention, rehabilitation and prevention. There is also a difference between those who advocate for prevention through the targeting of “at risk” individuals and those who advocate for prevention through meaningful social change and community development. What strategies should we adopt?

32 Tough on Crime: A Double-Edged Sword POTENTIAL BENEFITS: Brings criminals to “Justice”; Can rid neighbourhoods of guns, gangs and violent individuals – at least in the short-term; POTENTIAL CONSEQUENCES: Produces alienation and perceptions of social injustice; Criminalizes youth for minor crimes; Returns “hardened” criminals to the same disadvantaged communities; COST -- Takes money away from education, prevention and community development strategies.

33 School Safety Options Zero tolerance strategies Police in schools Use of security guards and police officers Metal Detectors, cameras, “sniffer” dogs, etc. Academic tutoring/special needs programming Extra-curricular programming Increased school-community-family interface Clearly stated and enforced rules School “engagement” policies Culture of inclusion – even for disruptive youth Dedicated, culturally competent staff

34 Evaluation Research Low quality evaluation (post-test testimonials). Medium quality evaluation (pre-test/post-test design). High Quality Evaluation (pre-test/post test/control group). The quality of the evaluation also depends on a number of other factors including outcome measures, data collection strategies, sampling decisions, etc.

35 Obstacles to Program Evaluation Resistance/apathy from Funding agencies Resistance/apathy from program administrators and staff. Competition for limited financial resources. Lack of research funds. Problems of researcher access. Lack of research expertise. Lack of public support for research. Is Canada “anti-research”?

36 Some Promising Results (from the International Literature) Intensive, long-term, multi-dimensional programs are more effective than short-term, one-dimensional programs. Programs that involve the family (parents, siblings, etc.) and the community (including pro-social peers) are more effective than programs that target youth in isolation. Programs must target the needs of specific youth. One size does not fit all. The delivery of youth services must be coordinated.

37 Key Recommendations Governance and Coordination A “place-based” approach The development of community hubs Anti-poverty strategy An education strategy Anti-racism strategy (including the collection of race- based statistics) A mental health strategy Evaluation (as a form of accountability)

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