Current Massachusetts data suggest that violence continues to be a major issue within the Commonwealth for young people. According to recent statistics from the Health and Risk Behaviors of Massachusetts Youth, 2013 survey, 12% of attending high school students reported having carried a weapon in the previous 30 days, 3% carried a gun in the past 30 days, and 4% were involved in a fight in the past year in which they were injured and required medical treatment due to weapon use. One fifth (20%) of students reported having been in a physical fight in the past year and 7% reported gang involvement. Eighteen percent (17%) of students reported being victims of bullying while 14% reported being victims of cyber-bullying in the past year, and middle school-aged youth reported that female students were more likely than male students to report being bullied 1-7 times in the past year (33% vs. 24%).

In order to address the myriad of youth violence in the Commonwealth, The Youth Violence Prevention Services Unit within MDPH has aligned two separate funding streams: Primary Violence Prevention Through Positive Youth Development and Youth At Risk: Secondary Violence Prevention and Intervention Through Positive Youth Development.

Youth At Risk Programs utilize a positive youth development approach, target the highest risk youth and include programming considered “secondary/tertiary prevention” activities. These “downstream” initiatives include:

  • Gang intervention programs
  • Support for outreach workers in neighborhoods with high incidents of violence
  • Diversion programs
  • Job readiness/life skills/employment programs
  • Financial literacy programs
  • High-risk youth mentor/apprentice programs
  • Services specifically catering to LGBTQ youth, immigrant/refugee/undocumented youth, youth with disabilities and homeless/unaccompanied/unstably housed youth

These programs also address a variety of health issues which both directly and indirectly impact a young person’s risk for violence including sexual violence, violence against LGBTQ youth, teen dating violence, bullying and suicide as well as other significant public health issues such as teen pregnancy and substance use. These programs serve the highest risk young men and women including “proven risk” youth, meaning young people.

Primary Youth Violence Prevention Programs focus on utilizing a positive youth development approach, target youth at high risk for violence but who are not necessarily engaging in violence yet and would include programming considered “primary prevention”. These “upstream” initiatives include but would not be limited to:

  • Peer Education and Community/Civic Engagement initiatives
  • Programs which work to build self esteem and self worth
  • Programs (including recreation) which work to promote leadership and teamwork
  • Mentorship programs
  • Programs which work to create “safe spaces” for disenfranchised youth including LGBTQ youth, homeless/unaccompanied/unstably housed youth and immigrant and refugee youth
  • Programs which offer assistance with school work
  • Job training/readiness and internships

In addition to the populations previously mentioned, these programs serve youth from impoverished communities or communities heavily impacted by violence or drugs, youth engaging in substance use and youth struggling in school. Programs under The Youth Violence section work with youth at the younger end of the targeted age range of 10-24.

For additional information regarding Primary Youth Violence Prevention and/or Youth at Risk programs, please contact Leonard M. Lee at Leonard.Lee@State.MA.US or call 617-624-5413 or Steven Smyth at Steven.Smyth@State.MA.US or call at 617-624-5490.

This information is provided by the Violence Prevention and Intervention Services within the Department of Public Health.