With Promising Early Stats, Chicago Expanding a New Youth Violence Prevention Strategy

Malik Hicks
Malik Hicks, 21, and a former Choose 2 Change participant, speaks at a recent call to action event on youth violence prevention. Photo: Children’s Home & Aid

The full results won’t be in until next year on Choose 2 Change (C2C), a youth violence prevention effort in Chicago. But the city likes what it’s seen so far, and is expanding the reach a model that could well gain traction in other urban areas.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot (D) announced that the program, which began in 2015 and has served about 600 youth so far, would be extended for three years to serve an additional 2,000 youths.

“Our children are the future of Chicago and as a city, we have a fundamental obligation to ensure young people who are involved in gun violence have the resources and supports they need to get back on the right path, pursue their dreams and live a life free from violence,” Lightfoot said at a recent roundtable discussion on gun violence.

C2C, a six-month program and runs through the Chicago Public Schools, is part of a mix of strategies the city has used to curb youth violence. It was developed in response to a design competition by the University of Chicago Crime Lab and Education Lab, which has also done the research and results tracking on C2C.

School officials identify youth who are at risk of joining gangs or engaging in other dangerous behavior. Participation in the program is optional, not a condition connected to disciplinary actions.

Lori Lightfoot
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced the expansion of a promising youth violence prevention strategy. Photo: Twitter

If a student is interested, he or she is first paired with a professional mentor from Youth Advocate Programs (YAP), a national nonprofit that provides community-based mentoring services in 29 states and the District of Columbia. The advocate meets with the young person multiple times each week, and also accompanies the student to between 12 and 16 psychotherapy sessions aimed at helping adolescents respond to chronic stress. That intervention – SPARCS, a variety of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy – is provided by Children’s Home & Aid.

Mid-study results from a randomized controlled trial of C2C found that upon completion of the program, participants had 48 percent fewer arrests for violent crime and are 39 percent less likely to have any form of arrest. Both results persisted more than a year after the program’s conclusion.

“It’s exciting to have data affirm what our experiences have told us,” said Shaena Fazal, senior policy director for YAP, in an interview with The Chronicle of Social Change. “Too many young people have suffered trauma but those experiences don’t have to define them. Young people heal when they are supported and feel love and belonging in their communities.”

The costs of the expansion, and where the funds will come from to pay for it, have not been settled on yet. The pilot phase cost around $4 million, mostly paid for with foundation support with both YAP and Children’s Home & Aid helping to subsidize the cost. The city has committed $1.1 million thus far to cover C2C as a summer program.

“It’s been a great example of the private sector’s willingness to take risks and find solutions that address big things like the devastating trauma that’s plagued kids in Chicago,” Fazal said. “Now the city can take what the research and our experience show works, and implement and scale it.”

Note: This story was updated on February 27.

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John Kelly, Editor in Chief, The Chronicle of Social Change
About John Kelly, Editor in Chief, The Chronicle of Social Change 1181 Articles
John Kelly is editor-in-chief of The Chronicle of Social Change. Reach him at jkelly@chronicleofsocialchange.org.