Weekly Notes: Administration Responds to Chicago Death; More Mentoring Grants; and more

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***Various federal agencies released JJ-related grants this week, but one grant from the Department of Education made headlines: a $500,000 grant to Chicago Public Schools (CPS) to “help Fenger High School and the elementary and middle schools that feed into Fenger…restor[e] learning environments following the death of 16-year-old Derrion Albert.” Albert is the youth who was beaten to death with a railroad tie during a street brawl sparked by neighborhood tensions (see our Weekly Notes from last week).

That certainly got the Youth Today newsroom buzzing. Were the feds really just able to throw money at something on the fly, and did the grant to CPS mean that some other community did not get funded?

The grant was made in reaction to the incident, said John White, an Education Department spokesperson, but the CPS gain was not another community’s loss.

“No one lost a grant to give Chicago this grant,” White wrote to JJ Today in an e-mail. “The Department has a fund that is maintained for incidents like this. We have never denied a school funding under this program because of lack of funds. If a school had a traumatic incident that disrupted learning they could apply for funds.”

Worth noting, should your community ever face a situation similar to the one near Fenger High School.

The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention released a bulletin on a survey on children’s exposure to violence on the same day the grant was made, and its topline figure is frightening: 60 percent of surveyed children reported that they were exposed to violence in the past year. Some of the other figures are pretty staggering:

-39 percent experienced two or more direct victimizations in the past year, and one in 75 had been directly victimized 10 times in the past year.

-46 percent reported being assaulted in the past year, and 57 percent reported having been assaulted at least once during their lifetime.

–6 percent of children reported that they were sexually victimized in the past year, and nearly 10 percent said they’d been victimized during their lifetime.

Attorney General Eric Holder’s press release announcing the bulletin said it is only the first in a series about the survey. Actually, the department already released a guide on detecting violence-related trauma in children in August, which is available on its Safe Start Center website.

In August, Balitmore’s health department issued its own study on the nexus between victimization and victimizing, and the W.T. Grant Foundation is funding more research on the subject: a Case Western Reserve University study of 150 Cleveland children between age 8 and 16 who are referred by police to mental health service agencies for trauma stemming from violence they have witnessed. The point: Measuring how exposure to violence affects sleep and, in turn, how that affects other aspects of a child's health.

It would not be surprising to see President Obama’s administration use the Fenger High incident to start building a case for larger investments to address community violence. The administration asked for, but has yet to receive, funding within OJJDP’s 2010 appropriation for a $25 million community-based violence prevention program. “The Administration is also disappointed that the Committee has provided no funding for Community-Based Violence Prevention Initiatives.,” said a statement of administration policy released earlier this week as the Senate takes up the appropriations bill referred to it by the House.

And supporters of the PROMISE Act, which would direct billions of dollars toward community-based violence prevention strategies, believe that Obama would sign the act if it went to his desk.

There is also Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s bill, the Gang Abatement Act, which would couple tougher gang laws with funds for community programs. The National Council on Crime and Delinquency compared Feinstein’s bill and the PROMISE Act in May.

***One group that didn’t need a study to know how experiencing or witnessing violence affects children is The Center for Survivors of Torture and War Trauma, which helps families from war-torn countries resettle in the St. Louis area. The group was one of the more intriguing names on the list of mentoring grantees for OJJDP this year, so we checked in to see what the plan for the mentoring money was.

The Center will use paid mentors to work with immigrant youth four times a week, and will also plan a monthly activity and yearly retreat for the youths, according to Anne Farina, the center’s directory of youth programs. It is a prevention-side effort, she said, so these are not necessarily youths that have already had JJ contact. Each paid mentor handles about five youths. 

The youth clientele at the center is especially vulnerable to future JJ involvement, Farina told us. They have often resettled into poor communities, have little education and limited English, and many times their parents are still struggling with post-traumatic stress.

“Kids want to feel like they belong, either being invited to join gangs that already exist or new ethnic gangs that pop-up,” Farina said. “Gang life is very present to them, constantly.”

***More mentoring grants aimed at preventing JJ involvement were made by the Family and Youth Services Bureau at the end of the month. The agency, which is part of the Administration for Children and Families at the Department of Health and Human Services, gave out 54 Mentoring Children of Prisoners grants. The grants ranged in size from $70,000 (for the Community Alliance and Reinvestment Endeavor in Reading, Pa.) to $600,000 (for Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Triangle in Raleigh, N.C.).

At OJJDP, Holder announced the release of more local youth mentoring grants. Thirteen of these grants had been released in August, but the department added dozens more this week. A list of all winners is posted here.

A big winner in both of these funding streams was Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, which struck out on the two biggest mentoring pots at OJJDP (national mentoring programs and the Recovery Act mentoring grants). BBBSA affiliates got about a third of the Mentoring Children of Prisoners grants, and at least 13 of the OJJDP grants.

***Click here for an interesting piece about the gray areas between substance use, abuse and dependence, written by Public/Private Ventures Vice President Jeff Butts for the Reclaiming Futures blog.

***JJ Today recently shelled out the $10 to go see Michael Moore’s new movie, “Capitalism: A Love Story”; we’ll give it three-and-a-half stars out of five. Moore did a pretty good job balancing entertainment with fact, particularly when it came to examining ways that powerful people and entities abuse the capitalist system. One example he used was the juvenile judges scandal in Luzerne County, Pa., and it is probably one of the best segments in the film.