Posted March 26, 2012 from Zimbabwe

PROJECT PROPOSAL FOR SHIELD (Strategic Home Intervention and Early Leadership Development)

The demand for effective approaches to prevent juvenile delinquency and subsequent adult criminal behavior is growing across Zimbabwe. Character and Ethics Institute Africa actively supports the development, implementation, evaluation, replication, and dissemination of programs and information about promising and effective approaches to delinquency prevention.

Therefore Character and Ethics Institute Africa has developed an innovative strategy for enhancing the prevention of delinquency by improving the use of existing community resources. The aim of this proposal is to provide an overview of Character and Ethics Institute Africa’s Strategic Home Intervention and Early Leadership Development (SHIELD) program. SHIELD uses contacts that law enforcement officers make in the normal course of their duties to identify at-risk youth and connect them with community resources. By improving coordination among civil organisations, law enforcement, social services, community service providers, and the school system, the SHIELD program facilitates early identification and treatment of at-risk youth who might otherwise be overlooked.

The logic and design of the SHIELD program grew out of the recognition that law enforcement officers frequently encounter youth who are exposed to conditions that predispose them to later delinquency and adult criminal behavior. Furthermore, the status and position of police and law enforcement departments allow them to serve as unifying elements in communitywide efforts to prevent delinquency.

Identifying Youth at Risk of Delinquency

Seasoned law enforcement officers in departments around the country have come to recognize early warning signs for later delinquency. Responding to calls, officers enter homes and situations where youth have been exposed to domestic violence, drug and alcohol abuse, gang activity, neglect, and other criminal behavior. Officers see youth who have been exposed to crime and violence on the streets, in their schools, and among their peers. Many experienced officers know delinquent youth whose first encounters with law enforcement were as victims of crime or as family members of someone who was arrested. Officers frequently recognize that such victimization experiences and exposure to criminal and delinquent family members are related to later offending.

Current research on the risk factors that distinguish youth who are more likely to become involved in delinquency from those who are less likely to do so confirms and expands on what some law enforcement officers already know. Risk factors can be defined as conditions in the environment or in the individual that predict an increased likelihood of developing delinquent behavior. Risk factors for delinquency and violence are generally described in five categories: community, individual, peer group, school related, and family .Community risk factors include poverty, physical deterioration, availability of drugs, and high crime rates. Individual risk factors include childhood hyperactivity, aggressiveness, and risk taking. Peer group risk factors include association with a peer group that has favorable attitudes toward delinquency and gang membership. School related risk factors include early and persistent antisocial behavior and academic failure. Finally, family risk factors include family conflict, family management problems (e.g., failure of caretakers to set clear expectations, lack of supervision, and excessively severe punishment), and favorable attitudes toward and involvement in crime and violence. Therefore Character and Ethics Institute Africa longitudinal, prospective research on the causes and correlates of delinquency has found that delinquency and violent behavior stem from the accumulation and interaction of risk factors in the five categories described above.

The probability of violence and delinquency increases (sometimes dramatically) with increases in the number of risk factors. For example, a study of 100 East London boys found that the percentage of boys convicted for violence more than doubled in the presence of 1 risk factor but increased tenfold in the presence of 4 or 5 risks.

Our researchers have also identified a number of protective factors that provide a buffer against risk factors. These include individual factors (e.g., high intelligence and positive social orientation), factors related to social bonding (e.g., supportive relationships with family members or other adults), and healthy beliefs and clear standards of behavior (e.g., norms that oppose crime and violence). Because protective factors also tend to have cumulative effects, youth who have or are exposed to a large number of protective factors show greater resilience in coping with the risk factors in their lives than do those with fewer protective factors. Although the understanding of risk and protective factors is increasing, questions remain about how civil organizations, law enforcement and other sectors can best use this information. Organisations who want to prevent delinquency may be discouraged by the perceived practical difficulties of coordinating a prevention program, especially because most organisations are already very busy with their day to day programs.

Character and Ethics Institute Africa considered these issues when they created the SHIELD program. Instead of designing a program in which services are delivered directly by one organisation, we have developed a coordinated mechanism that uses a multidisciplinary team to identify at-risk youth and connect them to new and existing intervention services in the community.

The SHIELD Program The SHIELD program is designed to accomplish two primary goals. First, it uses the contacts that police officers make in the course of their normal duties to identify youth who they think are likely to become involved in violent behavior, substance abuse, and gang activities. At-risk youth are identified as those who are exposed to family risk factors such as domestic violence and other criminal activities in the home. Second, SHIELD provides youth with services that are tailored to meet their individual needs by using a multidisciplinary team of representatives from the community, schools, and service agencies. The primary mechanism that supports these goals is the youth referral process.

To illustrate how the SHIELD program represents a change in traditional law enforcement activities, consider the following scenario:

An emergency operator answers a call from a woman in panic. The caller states that her husband has just beaten her and is still in the house. A patrol car is dispatched to the scene. Officers find a bruised and shaken woman waiting in her front yard with her 12-year-old son and 5-year-old daughter. The youth witnessed the abuse but were not physically harmed. The officers learn that the husband is currently intoxicated and has a history of abusing his wife.

A typical law enforcement response to such a situation is to apprehend the husband, assess the woman’s need for medical attention, and determine the extent to which the welfare of the children was compromised. In cases where officers find evidence of child endangerment, the social services may be asked to intervene. Social services may determine that home conditions pose a significant threat to the children and take steps to remove them from the home. However, this action is generally reserved for only the most serious cases. Because of legitimate concerns about the potential negative effects of removing children from the home, many children are left in homes where violence and criminal behavior are common. Police frequently have few alternatives when family risk factors exist but social services determine that the children’s welfare is not compromised to the extent necessary to remove them from home.

The SHIELD youth referral coordinated by Character and Ethics Institute Africa process gives officers a procedure for providing assistance to youth who are exposed to family risk factors. In the scenario described above, the responding officers would be required to do little more than their normal reporting to initiate the SHIELD referral process. The names and ages of the two children would be included in the police report as standard procedure because both were witnesses to the offense.

The officers would be required only to determine which schools the youth attend and mark a box on the police report form that indicates a potential SHIELD referral.

The SHIELD Referral Process At the outset of the SHIELD program, all officers will be given the following orders as part of the youth referral protocol:1 Police personnel are required to obtain the name, age, and school attended of any minor youth living in a home where a report is filed involving the following police activity: family violence of any type, neglect or abandonment, gang activity, drug sales or usage, arrests made associated with alcohol abuse, or any other call for service where the welfare of minor youth is at risk due to the behavior of older siblings or adults living in, or frequenting, the home.

The SHIELD program model (see figure on page 4) outlines the process of events that are involved in facilitating intervention through the SHIELD program. Whenever an officer responds to an incident or makes an arrest, he or she completes a standard report to document the details of the contact. If the officer identifies a youth as having been exposed to risk factors, he or she marks a box on the police report and forwards a full copy of the report through departmental channels to the SHIELD resource officer (SRO). On receiving a report, the SRO assumes responsibility for administering the SHIELD program and screens the case to determine whether the circumstances make the youth appropriate for SHIELD intervention.

The SRO will the family risk factors that were noted in the youth referral protocol to verify that the reporting officer had correctly identified a youth from the target population. After the initial process of stakeholders’ consultations, Character and Ethics Institute Africa will develop Youth Delinquency and Gang Involvement Risk Assessment instruments drawing heavily on Lipsey and Derzon’s (1998) synthesis of longitudinal research examining predictors of delinquency.

These instruments will be used to strengthen the screening process and prioritize access to services based on the level of risk each youth faces. The risk assessment instruments enable the SRO to place youth in low-, medium-, or high-risk categories for both general delinquency and gang involvement. Separate instruments will be created for youth at ages 6–11 and 12–14 to increase sensitivity to the differing effects of risk factors on youth at different developmental levels.3 In addition to these instruments, an inventory of protective factors is used to supplement the assessment. These risk assessment instruments and procedures are in the testing phase, but they are already proving useful in setting priorities for referral and treatment.

If the SRO deems a case appropriate for SHIELD intervention, he or she creates a student referral report, which contains a short synopsis of the incident as it pertains to the youth, demographic information about the youth and his or her family, contact information for the parents, and information from the assessments of both risk and protective factors. The SRO then sends the student referral report to the Youth and Family Resource Team coordinated by the Program Manager at Character and Ethics Institute Africa. This multidisciplinary team includes officials from the local school district, such as the pupil personnel administrator, the district nurse, a specialist in drug abuse prevention, and school principals; counseling staff from a community service provider; a social worker, religious and civil leaders, community representatives.

Beyond the core group of members who attend regular weekly meetings, the team may invite additional members, such as teachers and school counselors, who are familiar with a given youth. The team will seek the disclosure of confidential information to such a multidisciplinary team for use in prevention and intervention to be authorized by the Department of Justice.

When the team receives the student referral report, the members of the Youth and Family Resource Team consider a range of school and community-based interventions treatment options and make recommendations for treatment. However, treatment recommendations are often enhanced by information that goes beyond the original student referral report. Team members familiar with the youth frequently provide additional information that allows the team to understand the youth’s circumstances more fully. This sharing of information leads to better informed treatment recommendations than would be provided by any agency or service provider working alone.

Depending on the recommendation, interventions or/and treatment may or may not require parental consent. For example, if the Youth and Family Resource Team recommends that a youth receive individual counseling from a community treatment provider, parental consent generally is necessary. However, in cases where the team recommends informal school-based monitoring of the youth, no parental consent is required.

Treatment providers such as school counselors and community-based service providers are generally responsible for getting parental consent when it is necessary. Some parents were upset when they learned that the police department had referred their child to the program. Because many youth in this program are exposed to domestic violence, the parent who is in the position to provide consent for treatment may also be the one who created the risk factors in the home or allowed them to exist in the first place. Therefore, the process of obtaining parental consent is often delicate. In response to this issue, the SRO now contacts parents directly when their child is referred to the program. During this contact, the SRO describes the program and addresses any questions or concerns that the parents have. The SRO will make two attempts to contact a parent by telephone and will resort to sending a letter only if these two attempts are unsuccessful. In some cases, the SRO makes home visits.

The Youth and Family Resource Team reassesses the treatment recommendations and progress of each youth 4 weeks after the initial recommendation. While a youth is involved in treatment, the service providers send monthly progress reports to the SHIELD coordinator Character and Ethics Institute Africa. These reports allow for ongoing tracking and reassessment of the services provided to program youth.

Services for At-Risk Youth

SHIELD relies on programs and services that are already in the community. The program works closely with all of the local schools and local organisations. Character and Ethics Institute Africa has joined forces with Character Development Systems of USA and Josephson’s Institute Centre for Youth Ethics to offer programs that are targeted at At-Risk-Youth.

Individual and group counseling will be used in both school and community settings. Issues covered in counseling will vary based on the circumstances of the individual youth, but common themes included anger management, goal setting, pregnancy prevention, conflict resolution, and other coping skills. In some cases, treatment plans for youth will be more specialized.

Informal school-based monitoring will also frequently included in treatment plans. Informal monitoring may be used in conjunction with other treatment or as a stand-alone treatment when the youth show a low level of risk in conjunction with many protective factors or when parental consent for more intensive treatment is not granted. When teachers and administrators are aware of the risk factors that a student faces outside the classroom and they are actively monitoring that student, they are more likely to detect and respond to early signs of problem behavior, abuse, or neglect.

Challenges for Implementation Relying on alternatives for treatment that already exist in the community poses a challenge for implementation of the SHIELD model. As the program has evolves, members of the multidisciplinary team will try and develop a more complete and coordinated system of services. For example, schools serve as a primary resource for the program, but during holidays, school-based services like counseling and instruction are not available. To address this concern, Character and Ethics Institute Africa will develop and implement after school intervention programs and services and provide services and resources during holidays and prioritized SHIELD youth based on who had the greatest need for continuing services.

Even during the academic year, schools have varying resources for providing services to students. In many schools in East London, there are hardly any school counselors, and where they are available, the workload of qualified counselors and school psychologists at the high school level is much heavier than that of their counterparts at the elementary or middle school level. As a result, high school youth do not receiving the same level of focused preventive treatment as younger students. In response, Character and Ethics Institute Africa will arrange for a supervised counseling interns from Local and regional Universities to be assigned to the schools on as per need basis. The schools will provide space for the intern to meet with SHIELD program youth during school hours.

In some cases, meeting needs means developing entirely new programs. Recognizing the limited resources that we have available for leadership development, the Character and Ethics Institute Africa collaborate with local middle schools, the Department of Education and other stakeholders to create Monti/East London Youth Academy. This program is a school based effort to improve academic performance and build leadership and planning skills, thereby enhancing the protective factors in the lives of at-risk youth. The objective of the Academy is to enhance behavioral and academic outcomes among school youths, improve school attendance and grades

Supporting Factors The development of the SHIELD program in East London will benefit greatly from four supporting factors. First and foremost, the program has visionary leadership and will garner support from the administration of the Police Department, which—by recognizing the importance of targeted prevention and the role of law enforcement support for community collaboration in delinquency prevention— will make SHIELD program possible.

Second, the Character and Ethics Institute Africa can acquire grant funding to initiate the program and support it through its early development. Third, the development of the Youth and Family Resource Team and the provision of services to youth will benefit from the strong community ties and collaboration that Character and Ethics Institute Africa had already established. Fourth, the partnerships of Character and Ethics Institute Africa with organizations like Josephson Institute Centre for Youth Ethics and Character Development Systems within the with well established a Research and Planning Offices with a full-time social psychologist and several research associates will allow for an internal formative evaluation during the first year of SHIELD program operation and a 1-year follow-up. The evaluation will facilitate the development of SHIELD by identifying unanticipated obstacles to full implementation and providing timely feedback to program administrators from a trusted source.

Monitoring And Evaluation Any evaluation of program effectiveness depends on the criteria that are chosen to determine success. One of the basis of monitoring will be connecting youth to community resources and services in east London will be criterion for success of the SHIELD program. If delinquency prevention among targeted youth is the criterion for success, then judgments are more difficult to make. The use of multiple treatment modalities and providers across the community makes an impact evaluation of the SHIELD program challenging. Outcomes will largely dependent on the quality of the services and programs to which youth are referred. The formative evaluation will include qualitative assessment of participant satisfaction with the counseling provided through SHIELD.

Impact evaluation data for each treatment modality in the community, assessment of the overall level of delinquency prevention that SHIELD has brought to East London will be collected and evaluated. When such an evaluation was conducted, there is potential for generalizing from the findings would be limited because of the unique combination of services available in the community. Nevertheless, the identification and referral activities stand as the central program elements of SHIELD, and these show great promise as a model for the mobilization of community resources to prevent delinquency.

Implementation of SHIELD Character and Ethics Institute Africa believes that focused delinquency prevention is an important component of law enforcement and community protection responsibilities. The SHIELD program is designed to allow the police department to contribute most effectively to community-based delinquency prevention efforts.

Of the supporting factors noted above, the only one that must exist prior to implementation is strong support and collaboration with the law enforcement agencies. A history of community collaboration and strong ties to service providers and schools is important and will help any program, but these are not critical preexisting conditions.

Character and Ethics Institute Africa will host a series of consultative meetings with prospective partners. The next step will be to assemble the Youth and Family Resource Team. Organisations represented on this team should assist in drafting policy and procedures the referral process and assessing the availability of local services.

This assessment, also known as a resource inventory, should examine a variety of factors (for example, the types of services available and their service capacity, the length of waiting lists, the extent and quality of recordkeeping, and the number and condition of facilities) to identify service providers, highlight untapped resources, and uncover gaps in services available to youth.

The SHIELD program is not expensive; staff time is the primary expense for partner organisations and we will rely on volunteers and interns. The only full time staff will be the Program Manager based at Character and Ethics Institute Africa. A part time intern will be recruited and is responsible primarily for assisting with the development of student referral reports for the Youth and Family Resource Team and maintaining a computerized case management system. The Program Manager carries out administrative functions of the program, participates in Youth and Family Resource Team meetings, and completes risk assessment instruments for youth.

Conclusion The unique position of local law enforcement agencies in communities allows them to play important roles in the early identification of at-risk youth. Programs and approaches that take advantage of this position and provide a clear mechanism for linking at-risk youth to services in the community show great promise for preventing delinquency. The SHIELD program is continuing to evolve in its effort to better meet the needs of youth in the community and better mobilize resources to support this effort. The critical supporting factor for the SHIELD program is not funding—it is the commitment and support of organisations, communities and law enforcement administrators and personnel who are dedicated to preventing delinquency.

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