LAWRENCE — The University of Kansas has been awarded a four-year, $1.7 million U.S. Health & Human Services grant that will examine the effect of the combined support of multiple organizations and agencies on youth violence in Kansas City, Kansas.
The KCK Youth Violence Prevention Project (KCK-YVP2) will be directed by Jomella Watson-Thompson, associate professor of applied behavioral science and associate director at the KU Center for Community Health and Development. Her previous research used a community-based participatory approach to address violence and adolescent substance abuse prevention locally and regionally.
Watson-Thompson said that community programs often serve different youths. “We asked ourselves what would happen if we were able to layer all our efforts to focus on the same group of kids and in the same neighborhood.”
Ninety youths in the eighth, ninth and 10th grades in the Northwest Middle School and Wyandotte High School catchment area will be invited to participate in the study.
“We will endeavor to engage students in multiple and coordinated supports to get them past high school and on a pathway toward college or other post-secondary training over the four years of the grant, ” said Watson-Thompson.
The KCK-YVP2 focuses on addressing the social determinants or underlying root causes of the problem, such as employment, education, access to resources and social connectedness, which may symptomatically manifest in problem behaviors such as youth violence, she said.
The effort will partner with multiple agencies and groups in Kansas City, Kansas, working across the spectrum of social determinants.
There are disparities in the rates of homicide and aggravated assaults among African-American and Hispanic youths that have been increasing nationally, including in Kansas City, Kansas, said Watson-Thompson.
“Our partners represent many of the ongoing efforts, but if we are to prevent and reduce youth violence, we must all collaborate to systemically address the underlying causes of this problem. It is not about what any one program or effort can do individually, but about the collective contributions and opportunity for impact that we have to collaboratively address the problem of youth violence in our community.”
The multicomponent intervention includes deploying violence prevention health workers who will help youths and their families navigate challenges such as employment and conflict resolution issues, for example. The violence prevention health worker will provide coordinated supports through project partners including KU Medical Center’s BullDoc Free Clinic, which operates out of Wyandotte High School to provide health care access. The collaborative effort will also support group-based mentoring and family coaching. The LEAD UP Youth Achievement Program, led by Watson-Thompson, will help youths develop goals and action plans through college immersion experiences and coaching by current college students, as well as provide summer employment training.
The KU’s Center for Community Health and Development and the Kansas City, Kansas Police Department, in collaboration with other project partners, have convened a Systems Advisory Board with more than 50 community and systems stakeholders and partner agencies from many sectors of the community, including several divisions of the Unified Government of Wyandotte County, faith-based organizations, schools and colleges, law enforcement, mental health, social services and youth-serving agencies to support a strategic and collaborative approach for addressing and preventing youth violence in the community.
“We want to bring together the best of what we know and the best of what we’re doing to the same group of kids and families to understand the cumulative impact of our collaborative and strategic efforts,” she said.
Another goal of the multicomponent project is developing a workforce that is culturally competent in nonprofits, churches, schools, law enforcement, juvenile justice systems and other sectors. This will include promoting an understanding of secondhand trauma, said Watson-Thompson.
“We want to ensure the professionals who are working with our youth recognize and are able to cope with this issue for themselves, as well as for the youth and families they serve,” she said.
“We don’t want to stop anything that is in place, but we do want to be more intentional and strategic with how we can impact both youth and the community. If fewer youth die due to homicides or are involved in aggravated assaults, it will be a shared success that requires all of us to collaboratively work together through existing and expanded partnerships that support sustained change and improvements in the environments in which our youth and families live.”