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Parent Resources: Gang Prevention and Intervention

Gangs are destructive to today’s youth. Such dangerous groups bring about drugs, weapons and violence. But to our youth, the benefits outweigh the risks. This is a hazardous attitude toward gangs as the real case is the dangers outweigh any and all appeals to joining one. The outcomes are children, teens and young adults who are sucked into seemingly hopeless situations.

Why Do Youth Join Gangs?

The Parents’ Guide to Gangs shows that the reasons why are in two categories: pulls and pushes. In other words, appeal and coercion. Pulls involve someone thinking of the ways they can earn a living or earn status with joining a gang. They may also want “to show family, neighborhood, or cultural pride.” Pushes involve them thinking of the idea of being protected by a gang upon joining them. Another push that is more dangerous is someone getting pressured into joining even if they do not want to.

These pushes and pulls are called risk factors. In a video called “Why Youth Join Gangs,” which is presented by the National Gang Center website, risk factors are defined as “characteristics, variables, or hazards that, if present for a given individual, make it more likely that this individual will join a gang.”

Dangers of Gangs

The dangers that teens put themselves through are numerous and fatal. The teen can get arrested for any crimes committed for the gang, get engaged in gang violence, overdose from any drug involvement and even suffer fatalities such as gunshot/stab wounds or death.

Another hazardous mindset is that, according to the video, “many adults believe that youth are forced to join gangs.” But as the video says, “this is rarely true.”

It is the risk factors that bring in children and teens. They include:

  • Individual Risks – problem behavior (that is, “acting out”), antisocial beliefs, negative life events (serious illness, school suspension or expulsion, disruption in family relationships and victimization) and victimization.

  • Family Risks – disrupted family structure, family transitions and poor parental supervision.

  • School Risks – poor school performance, low school/teacher attachment and suspensions/expulsions.

  • Peer Risks – association with delinquent peers.

  • Community Risks – poverty, neighborhood disorganization and crime

Note: Poverty does not cause individuals to join gangs, but it “puts strain on families, schools and community institutions,” making it difficult to give support and protection our youth.

Prevention

There are things that the parent(s) can do in order to ensure their child does not join a gang. Parents can encourage the community on turning the tables of the risk factors by bringing about beneficial change:

  • Family Change – strengthening families, providing training for parents of disruptive and delinquent youth, and increasing adult supervision of students after school.

  • School Change – providing training for teachers on how to manage disruptive students, reviewing and softening school “zero tolerance” policies to reduce suspensions and expulsions, providing tutoring for students who are performing poorly in school, providing interpersonal skills training to students to help resolve conflicts, teaching students that gangs can be dangerous, and providing training for school resource officers in mediating conflicts.

  • Community Change – addressing elevated risks for joining a gang, improving community-level supervision on youth, reducing youth’s conflicts, ensuring that punitive sanctions target delinquent gang behaviors, not gang apparel, signs and symbols, providing a center for youth recreation and referrals for services, and providing gang awareness training for school personnel, parents and students.

On a further note, primary prevention programs (which are “public awareness campaigns, one-stop centers that improve access for public services, school-based life skills programs, community cleanup and lighting projects, and community organizing efforts”) and secondary prevention programs (which “can provide socially rewarding, healthy, and accessible social opportunities that serve to divert a youth’s time and attention from the gang lifestyle”) need to apply to the general population of youth and youth at a high risk for joining a gang. 

Intervention

Meanwhile, intervention programs need to apply to youth who have already joined a gang and typically range from ages 12 to 24. People under this category should go under “intensive treatment services and supervision” with programs that “include group therapy, family therapy, mentoring, and cognitive-behavioral therapy.” There are example programs that help with intervention including Movimiento Ascendencia (Upward Movement) that works with young Mexican girls that are already in gangs and Boys & Girls Clubs Gang Intervention Through Targeted Outreach which “recruits gang-involved youth into club membership to decrease gang-related behaviors. The OJJDP Comprehensive Gang Prevention, Intervention, and Suppression Model “has demonstrated evidence of effectiveness in reducing gang-related crime.”

To refer to the tools, models and assessments of gang activity in communities, go to the National Gang Center.  

Sources

National Gang Center. (July 2015). Parents’ Guide to Gangs. Version 1. https://www.nationalgangcenter.gov/Content/Documents/Parents-Guide-to-Gangs.pdf

Slowikowski, J. (December 2010). Juvenile Justice Bulletin. Washington, D.C. Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/ojjdp/231116.pdf

National Gang Center (n.d.) https://www.nationalgangcenter.gov/

“Why Youth Join Gangs” https://www.nationalgangcenter.gov/Video

Youth.gov (n.d.) Gang Prevention: An Overview of Research and Programshttps://youth.gov/feature-article/gang-prevention-overview-research-and-programs