This is the third and last of a series of articles on the escalating violence that has spread across the nation, and had such disproportionate effect on the lives of children and young people. In this installment we will look at the efforts that lawmakers, educators, and others have proposed to address the problem, and stem the tide of deaths.
Despite the passage of a few months the violent deaths of the children in Newtown, Connecticut, and the shooting of Chicago South Side teenager, Hadiya Pendleton, their deaths have galvanized the nation, and begun a conversation of on how best to protect the country’s young people, and others.
Much of the ensuing debate has centered on gun laws, appropriate registration, and background checks to ensure that guns are not in the hands of the mentally disturbed, or those with a violent history.
The responses have ranged from that of President Obama, who noted, in a recent trip to Chicago, “No law or set of laws can prevent every senseless act of violence in this country,” to Wayne LaPierre, executive vice president and CEO of the National Rifle Association, who in the immediate aftermath of the Newtown murders said that teachers, aides, administrators, should be armed with guns to protect the schools; a suggestion that was widely scoffed, and even ridiculed.
The NRA’s position is that guns in the hands of law-abiding citizens can create safer communities. But, those on the left, and from the administration, disagree, feeling that it would lead to greater violence.
Focusing on restrictions of freedom, and Second Amendment rights, La Pierre said at a recent meeting of the Mule Deer Foundation, “The Second Amendment — it’s not just words on parchment . . . it lies on the very heart of what our country was founded upon.”
Such rhetoric, of course, is not new to the argument, which has waxed, and waned over the last several decades; but in light of the December shootings at Newtown they have taken on fresh significance in the public discourse.
This Wednesday, former Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords returned to the site of her near fatal shooting in Tucson, where, in a speech, she urged members of the U.S. Senate to “be courageous” and support background checks for all gun buyers.
School efforts at prevention
Efforts from the school administrators and officials have focused on anti-bullying measures coupled with grass root measures such as Chicago’s Operation Cease Fire, a public health effort designed to use former gang members to help talk to serve as mediators in street conflicts before they become deadly.
In addition, Chicago Public Schools have spent over $50 million dollars in efforts to keep children safe, even in getting to, and from school, and also identifying those at risk, a struggle that has been hampered by diminishing financial resources, despite a boost from federal grants that began in 2009.
Paul Schewe, Director of the Chicago Interdisciplinary Center for Research on Violence, and also associate professor of criminology, law and justice, at the University of Illinois at Chicago, told me, in an emailed statement, “clearly, the problem of violence is complex, and will require a multifaceted solution that will involve the efforts of governmental agencies, non-profit agencies, grass-roots organizations, schools, universities, community groups, law enforcement, businesses, and policy-makers.”
One of the most important tools in addressing school violence is that of the school social worker, who according to Annette Johnson, clinical associate professor, at UIC’s Jane Addams College of Social Work told me that “from a prevention perspective, the school social worker can help students develop the social and emotional competencies that are so important for academic success in school.” And, furthermore, “these skills can be introduced in small groups, classroom groups or by working collaboratively with the classroom teacher and/or parents.”
Role of the school social worker
Assistant Professor, of social work, Cassandra McKay-Jackson, also of Jane Addams, notes that the role of the school social worker can be especially effective when they “address the Social Emotional Learning (SEL) goals for students. SEL has gained such prominence that U.S. Representatives Judy Biggert (R-IL), Dale E. Kildee (D-MI) and Tim Ryan (D-OH) recently introduced federal legislation to help students achieve in the classroom by improving social and emotional competence. If approved the, the Academic, Social and Emotional Learning Act (H.R. 2437) will expand programing which support skill development in problem solving conflict resolution, responsible decision making and relationship building.”
One significant problem is that there are simply not enough school social workers; as McKay says, “In many schools, school social workers are
assigned to two to three schools [thus] decreasing their availability to work with youth in need of care. The national association of school social workers recommends a maximum ratio of one school social worker to 400 students in order to provide the mental health services needed within a school.”
Schools, and the community, as an essential component in solving violence
Research has shown that the role of schools in the lives of children – their central most point for both skills and academia – is pivotal for their emotional development. In fact Jackson says, “School attachment was associated with lower levels of violent delinquency and aggressive beliefs, as well as with academic motivation. Perceived teacher support was associated with positive perceptions of school climate and with academic motivation.”
But, there is also a role for the community in preventing violence. McKay underscores that by saying “Parental control was associated with lower levels of violent activity and with high levels of academic motivation. Violence exposure was related to violent delinquency and negative perception of school climate.”
And, as Schewe notes, the most successful effort, in violence prevention, will require a multi-tiered approach with the efforts of a variety of people and institutions.
All of these efforts also require cash, of which urban schools are strapped, with Chicago being no exception. Thursday’s budget address by Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn does not bode well for education, as he included “what lawmakers say is a $370 million cut in support to elementary and high schools that would mark the third consecutive education funding reduction.”
This also comes on the heels of news that Chicago Public Schools may close up to 80 schools, as reported by a specially appointed commission, and will further require even more money.
Add to this the problems of an aging infrastructure; as the Chicago Tribune reported in 2011 “Chicago Public Schools pays about $380 million a year to operate and maintain its aging and far-flung network of buildings. That includes energy bills, cleaning services, replacing broken or outdated equipment, and simple repairs.”
As we’ve seen, the answer to violence prevention against young people, indeed violence across the nation, will not be simple, and will take a coordinated effort of both the public and private sector, and especially, the community at large. But, what, how and when that effort will reach fruition will take time, but one thing is certain, that time has come.
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