Chapin Hall to house center aimed at tackling youth violence

Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago will be the home of the Chicago Center for Youth Violence Prevention, one of four recently named National Academic Centers of Excellence funded by a $1.3 million grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Led by Chapin Hall Research Fellow Deborah Gorman-Smith, the CCYVP will build on earlier funding to develop an integrated set of activities aimed at reducing youth violence within targeted Chicago communities, and using the knowledge gained in this process to inform violence-prevention efforts more broadly.

These National Academic Centers of Excellence are intended to “build the scientific infrastructure necessary to support development and widespread application of effective youth violence interventions, promote interdisciplinary research strategies to address the problem of youth violence, foster collaboration between academic researchers and communities, and empower communities to address the problem of youth violence,” according to the CDC.

CCYVP brings together a multidisciplinary team of researchers with broad expertise and deep experience from within Chapin Hall, across the University of Chicago and at the University of Illinois at Chicago to focus on the challenge of reducing violent behavior in Chicago’s inner city. The Chapin Hall team includes Gorman-Smith, principal investigator and CCYVP director, along with Chapin Hall Senior Researcher Michael Schoeny. They have collaborated for more than 20 years with Co-Investigator David Henry, University of Illinois at Chicago School of Public Health, and the Chicago Project on Violence Prevention. CCYVP investigators have reached out as well to the University of Chicago Crime Lab, which also joins the collaboration.

According to Chapin Hall Executive Director Matthew Stagner, “Youth violence is a national concern, recognized as a core challenge for public health, education policy, and urban economic development. CCYVP represents an integrated set of activities with one central mission—reducing youth violence.”

The CCYVP will implement a coordinated system of evidence-based interventions—both universal and targeted—directed toward decreasing aggression and violence at the community and individual level.

“There is neither a single nor a simple answer to the question of how to reduce youth violence,” said Gorman-Smith. “The problem has many interrelated causes, and solving it will require coordinated efforts at many levels and across many systems.”

CCYVP will work at the neighborhood or community, school and family levels to implement a coordinated set of programs that, through rigorous scientific evaluations, have been demonstrated to be effective. Activities at the neighborhood level will be coordinated through CeaseFire, a violence-prevention strategy that includes both universal and targeted components. The universal component includes a set of community education and mobilization activities designed to affect neighborhood norms regarding violence. Outreach workers focus efforts on high-risk individuals so that “violence interrupters” can intervene in circumstances in which violence is likely to occur.

In addition, interventions designed to impact norms related to violence and aggression will be deployed within elementary schools. These include interventions conducted within classrooms, as well as programs that work directly with families and stress parental involvement in school and parent and family functioning as they relate to violence and aggression.

“In addition to these interventions, we will continue our work with community partners and city agencies to assess community need, identify additional evidence-based interventions, and pilot promising interventions or policies,” said Gorman-Smith. For example, researchers from University of Chicago’s Crime Lab will continue work with city and state officials—as well as community organizations—that seeks to improve our understanding of how to reduce crime and violence by helping government agencies and nonprofit organizations rigorously evaluate new pilot programs.

In recognition of the complexity of the issue of youth violence, Gorman-Smith and her colleagues will focus on children and families at different developmental ages and on youth with varying degrees of risk. “Our efforts are coordinated with the social systems—families, schools, community agencies and justice—that have the most effect on children and families across the developmental spectrum.”

Chapin Hall is an independent policy research center whose mission is to build knowledge that improves policies and programs for children and youth, families, and their communities. Its multidisciplinary research encompasses the needs of all children and adolescents, and devotes special attention to those experiencing significant problems, such as maltreatment, poverty, delinquency, and mental and physical illness.