As the Elm City continues its battle against youth violence, city officials met on Wednesday to discuss ways to stem crime through measures other than a curfew.
Stressing the importance of collaboration and communication, the Youth Services Committee of the Board of Aldermen discussed the causes of youth violence and tried to assess the success of existing educational and recreational programs that target at-risk teens. The meeting was a follow-up to a set of hearings conducted late last November at which New Haven youth and community members voiced their opposition to a youth curfew proposal — which would prevent youth under 18 from roaming the streets past 10 p.m. — that had been brought in front of the Board last fall.
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Ward 7 Alderwoman Frances Clark said that, having heard impassioned appeals from youth opposed to the curfew, the Board has decided to hold the proposal in abeyance and invest its energy in devising new solutions.
“The curfew proposal didn’t address the root causes of the issue … that parents aren’t paying enough attention to their children and that children themselves do not have enough to do,” Clark said. “We’re now in a period of investigation …. We need new programs and interventions.”
Clark said that of approximately 20,000 New Haven youth, 3 percent have been involved in the juvenile justice system for truancy and an additional 7 percent have been identified as being at risk of adopting truant behavior.
“The question is: What is being done about this 10 percent?” Clark said. “We need to understand and map the services …. And there has to be thinking out of the box, thinking in a different way.”
Ward 23 Alderman Yusuf Shah voiced support for a New Haven Police Department outreach program that had been proposed during Tuesday’s public safety committee meeting. The proposal, which Shah called “very inviting,” would hire individuals who grew up in the neighborhoods to initiate conversations with youth involved in violent or illegal street activities.
Shah said that integrating youth views into the violence prevention process is crucial to its resolution.
“We’re spiraling into a wonderful dialogue with youth,” Shah said, “The more we do this, the better we’re going to be able to understand them.”
But Ward 16 Alderwoman Migdalia Castro urged the aldermen to consider the underlying economic conditions that prevent parents from investing more time in their children, warning against a preventative approach with too narrow of a focus.
“We’re looking at one particular problem, not the bigger picture,” she said “Parents are struggling because they’re working two or three jobs. The kids are alone because their families don’t put them on center stage …. This socioeconomic stress translates from parents to kids.”
The second issue on the meeting’s agenda was devising initiatives focused on engaging youth in constructive activities in order to prevent them from falling into truant and violent patterns of behavior.
Castro said the age group with the most unproductive free time was youth between the ages of 14 to 21, whom she said should be provided with opportunities to develop their entrepreneurial skills and encouraged to pursue a college degree.
But other officials said that often, youth do not respond to programs meant to occupy their time productively. Representatives from the Department of Parks and Recreation, who run the City Wide Recreational Activities program for youth between the ages of 6 and 14, reported that often, youth simply do not engage in the recreational activities provided to them, even though they are offered at a low cost.
For example, when the department made a strong push to create a city-wide basketball league for youth between ages 13 and 15, only seven responded, said Roxanne Hayes, recreational coordinator of the Department of Parks and Recreation.
“The programs are there,” she said. “They do exist, but kids don’t take advantage of them.”