In March 2013, President Barack Obama issued a proclamation declaring the month of April as National Child Abuse Prevention Month. In addition, the first week of April is National Youth Violence Prevention Week. As an annual observance started by Students Against Violence Everywhere (SAVE), National Youth Violence Prevention Week enhances awareness on youth violence and creates discussion on how to prevent violence before it starts. In honor of this observance, SAVE and VetoViolence are co-sponsoring an Ask the Expert Facebook Forum event which began on April 7th and will end on April 11th.
VetoViolence is a creation by the U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC) as a way to help increase awareness and adoption of evidenced base approaches by practitioners and other professionals in their efforts to prevent violence. Recently, I had the opportunity to interview Jim Wise who is a school social worker in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and he is also the Board Chair for the National SAVE organization. This is what Jim had to say about this important month especially for us social workers:
SWH: Tell us a bit about your background, organization, and the work you do in youth violence prevention.
SAVE: My name is Jim Wise and I am a School Social Worker in Chapel Hill NC. I am also the Chair of the Board of Directors for National SAVE as well as being SAVE chapter advisor at Chapel Hill High School. I have been involved in SAVE as a chapter advisor since 1996 and have worked with the National SAVE Youth Advisory Board since 1999.
SAVE was started 25 years ago in response to the shooting of a high school student named Alex Orange. Classmates at West Charlotte High School came together the following Monday and decided that they did not want to let his death be in vain. To make a difference they started Students Against Violence Everywhere.
Since that day, SAVE has been student driven and lead. We have chapters in elementary, middle and high schools as well as college chapters and some in community organizations like Boys and Girls Clubs. Each chapter decides on the issues that are most relevant in their setting and does education and prevention activities to address them. We look at 3 areas for SAVE chapters being involved in their schools and communities, Crime Prevention, Conflict Management and Service Projects. In some schools the issues may about bullying, cyberbullying, in others it may be fights or theft or vandalism. Whatever the issue is we look to students to be involved in possible solutions and working as part of those solutions. Thus our motto which is “Youth Voices, Grown Up Choices”.
SWH: What are the biggest challenges and barriers to reducing violence against youth?
SAVE: One of the biggest challenges is finding ways to include youth in the efforts. We feel strongly that any meaningful changes need to include youth every step of the way, from problem identification to possible solutions and especially at the point where programs and initiatives are being implemented. If we fail to have the input of young people at any of these steps we are likely to miss out on important information and opportunity. If youth feel that they are part of a solution they are much more likely to take ownership and work to make solutions successful.
SWH: How does your organization engage and involve social workers or plan to engage in the future?
SAVE: Social Workers are chapter advisors for some of our chapters. We also will use local resources and experts when chapters are working on projects where education, support and additional information may be needed. Many chapters will invite Social Workers and other staff from local Human Services agencies to attend meetings and share the work that their groups do or act as resources in other ways.
SWH: How does the Facebook Forum to Ask an Expert work, and what other activities have been planned to help create awareness?
SAVE: With so many young people today getting information via social media that it provides a very available forum on a national level for them to ask questions and receive quality information and answers. We need to continue to look to our young people and where they are getting their ideas from and work to access those platforms.
Many chapters have activities planned in their schools and communities and will be inviting school and local leaders to be part of them as well as reaching out to news media in their local communities to raise awareness.
SWH: What can a regular person do to help with the prevention of youth violence?
SAVE: All of us can be aware of what is going on in our communities and take time to be in touch with young people around us. Any time we can show concern and interest for the well being of young people that is going to have a positive impact. Everyone can also look for ways to support positive groups and activities in their local communities. Anytime we can engage young people in prosocial activities we are building resilience and reducing the likelihood they will become involved in negative and potentially violent behaviors.
Youth Violence Prevention Forum When: April 7-11, 2014 Where:VetoViolence’s Facebook page Co-sponsor: Students Against Violence Everywhere (SAVE) Why focus on youth violence? Youth violence is widespread in the US—homicide is the second leading cause of death for young people ages 15-24. Each year, youth homicides and assault-related injuries result in an estimated $16 billion in combined medical and work loss costs.
Deona Hooper, MSW is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Social Work Helper, and she has experience in nonprofit communications, tech development and social media consulting. Deona has a Masters in Social Work with a concentration in Management and Community Practice as well as a Certificate in Nonprofit Management both from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.