"With the gang situation, you have to be very vigilant," Lillian Brooks, director of Alexandria's Court Services unit said. "You can't just arrest your way out of the problem, so that's why we continue to do prevention, so kids don't join gangs, and intervention for kids who have been involved in gangs." -- (www.washingtonpost.com)
Gangs. Once relegated to the cement canyons of New York City, Los Angeles and other mega cities, they now network across the nation, spreading crime and violence into neighborhoods once thought impermeable to such influence, while attempting to recruit vulnerable youth.
In a culture where, more often than not, single parents are working hard to make ends meet, and are forced to rely on very untrustworthy childcare resources, these groups appear to offer vulnerable young people very tangible "benefits": identity, family and a place to go where "everyone knows your name."
Unfortunately, what seems great to the young person being drawn into a gang, is destructive to neighborhoods and communities, and destructive as well as to the individual gang member.
What's being done?
Through NVFS, the IPE program (Intervention, Prevention and Education) was developed in an intensive effort to reduce youth violence and counteract the appeal of gang membership among language and ethnic minority children, ages 12 to 21, in the Northern Virginia area. Over a period of time, this and other programs in Northern Virginia have definitely impacted gangs with very positive results for the community and individual young persons:
"Gangs in Northern Virginia have failed to gain an entrenched foothold in the region. Northern Virginia has achieved notable success in thwarting gangs, in containing their spread, and in suppressing the number of crimes they commit," says author of The Northern Virginia Comprehensive Gang Assessment, Ken Billingsley. (www.tv3winchester.com, 10/26/09)
What is IPE and what does it do?
The IPE program ensures that youth ages 10 – 21 who are vulnerable to recruitment by gangs are able to develop the skills necessary to resist joining and that their parents and community members are able to provide the support and structure needed to keep these vulnerable youth safe from the negative influence of gangs.
As its name suggests, IPE seeks to intervene in the lives of young people who are either gang members or at risk of becoming so. It addresses those issues in a young person's life that make him or her likely to slip into gang involvement: poor school achievement or involvement; feeling alienated from family and community; and involvement with negative peers.
Prevention involves getting youth plugged into positive environments and activities. It involves help with academics, social involvement and setting goals for a future.
Finally, the education component of IPE involves not only the young person, but parents, guardians and family members as well. It equips the young person to find alternatives to destructive behaviors and tendencies, for example. It helps parents and guardians improve and practice supportive and beneficial responses to their young person. It gives the family ways to respond to various situations in a positive way and increases community awareness of gangs and how to effectively support youth to make positive choices.
Where are services available?
- Fairfax County
How does it work?
At least one Intervention Prevention Education (IPE) Counselor is assigned in each jurisdiction.
IPE Counselors provide short-term case management services by working one-on-one with the youth on thier assigned case load to identify their short and long-term goals; their resource and referral needs; and their unique gang-intervention needs.
In addition, the IPE Counselor works with the youth’s parents or guardians to increase effective communication and appropriate limit-setting, to provide education about the signs of gang involvement and to provide information about the ways families can support their children so that they are less vulnerable to gang involvement.
Referrals for any needed services are provided, ensuring that families are connected to a supportive network and to the formal and informal resources in their community.
Does it work?
Most IPE participants have significant improvement in the risk factors that can lead to gang activity. The majority of youth who participate in IPE show a reduction in gang activity and improvement the following areas: academic success; family relationships; and pro-social activity. In addition to strides in these areas, IPE participants also learn: employment skills and get help finding work; how to implement effective problem solving and decision making skills; how to identify personal strengths and apply those towards the achievement of goals; and how to identify and maintain positive peer relationships.