BALTIMORE, MD - A new study by researchers at the Johns Hopkins Center for Injury
Research and Policy finds that youth generally perceive community
street outreach workers positively, regardless of whether they have
personally worked with one.
Street outreach workers are typically members of the community who
intervene to prevent conflict and retaliation, and in some programs,
also connect individuals with needed services, such as housing,
health care and job training.
While communities across the United States are increasingly using
street workers as a strategy to connect at-risk youth to services and
prevent gang-related violence, little is known about how they are
viewed by the youth in their communities, particularly among youth
who have not yet worked with one. This study, available online in
advance of publication in the Journal of Community Health, is the
first peer-reviewed study to include the perceptions of youth who are
not former or current clients of community street workers.
Researchers from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health
surveyed 159 individuals ages 13 to 23 in Lowell, Mass., to assess
their perceptions of local street workers. Lowell is a city of
105,167 residents north of Boston. The United Teen Equality Center
(UTEC), in Lowell was established in 1999 in response to local gang
violence and houses a community street worker program that was the
focus of the evaluation. The majority (63 percent) of survey
respondents indicated they knew first hand of fights in which the
street workers intervened and/or prevented them from occurring.
Eighty-two percent of respondents who reported having participated in
street worker-led mediation activities said their conflicts had
successfully been resolved.
"These results support the value of communities using street workers
to help meet the needs of their youth and in mediating disputes,"
said Keshia Pollack, PhD, MPH, an assistant professor with the
Bloomberg School's Department of Health Policy and Management and
lead author of the paper. "Even youth who haven't directly benefited
from working one-on-one with street outreach workers are telling us
their presence makes their own community a better place."
Respondents were also asked about their employment, education and
health care needs. Close to 60 percent reported needing help finding
and securing a job, and approximately one-third needed assistance
with resume writing. The No. 1 health need expressed by youth was
access to health care, followed by drug rehabilitation and treatment
services, and birth control. Importantly, more than 50 percent of the
respondents said they could not have connected with the services they
received without the help of the street workers.
"Young people have needs beyond conflict resolution strategies, and
it is important that communities consider this point when thinking
about how best to keep their young people moving in the right
direction," said co-author Shannon Frattaroli, PhD, MPH, also an
assistant professor with the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public
Health's Department of Health Policy and Management. "At the end of
the day, teens know that the factors necessary for a successful
transition to adulthood include education, employment, and health
care," Frattaroli said.
Additional authors of "Youth Perspectives on Street Outreach Workers:
Results from a Community-Based Survey" are Jennifer M. Whitehill
(Johns Hopkins Center for the Prevention of Youth Violence) and Karen
Jonsberg (Johns Hopkins Center for Injury Research and Policy).
The research was funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.