Into The Abyss:
A Personal Journey into the World of Street Gangs

by Mike Carlie, Ph.D.        
Michael K. Carlie
Continually updated.

~ Table of Contents ~
Home | Foreword | Preface | Orientation

What I Learned | Conclusions
End Note |
| Appendix
Site Map / Contents
| New Research

Up-To-Date Gang-Related News

Part 4:
What Youth-Serving Agencies Could Do

Most communities have a number of different youth-serving agencies. In addition to services and programs sponsored by local schools are services provided by area social agencies. The area social agencies are the ones to which probation and parole officers often send their clients.

Youth-serving agencies and grassroots community groups must 'reach out' and act as a link between gang youth and the conventional world. Staff or adult volunteers of these organizations must develop meaningful relationships with these youth. (Kane, 1992)

These programs support, guide and challenge young people as they venture beyond their families and immediate neighborhoods into an ever-expanding world of friends, opportunities and other influences. Perhaps most important, however, these programs provide opportunities for young people to interact with caring adults and to form positive relationships with their peers. (Search Institute, 2000)

Other youth-serving agencies in a community may include the Parks Department, Health Department, YMCA/YWCA, 4H, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Boys and Girls Clubs of America, Big Brothers/Big Sisters, and faith-based youth organizations, among others.

Featured Program 
Gang Prevention and Intervention 
Through Targeted Outreach
(Click for more information)

"In response to the number of youth gangs growing in cities and expanding to suburban and rural communities, Boys and Girls Clubs of America has developed a special gang prevention and intervention initiative targeting youth ages 6-18. Through referrals from schools, courts, law enforcement and community youth service agencies, the tested and proven Targeted Outreach Program identifies and recruits delinquent youth, or those "at risk" of delinquency, into ongoing Club programs and activities. This initiative is sponsored by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, U.S. Department of Justice." (Boys and Girls Clubs of America, page)

When the prevention and intervention efforts of the youth-serving agencies are combined and coordinated with area social service agency programs a powerful tool is created for reducing gang activity and youth violence. Due to the correlation between participating in gangs and the use of drugs, some solutions focus upon substance abuse intervention. Among all the solutions which may be enhanced through the participation of youth-serving agencies are:

bulletLearn more about "Jobs for a Future"
Homeboy Industries is a unique first stop center where gang members, at-risk youth and those recently released from detention facilities can find assistance with job placement, tattoo removal, counseling, community service opportunities and case management services. Perhaps your community could duplicate this program. You can contact Father Gregory Boyle for additional information. He is the Director of Jobs for a Future and is a nationally-known figure in the world of gang member salvation.
bulletSponsoring Park Department activities for at-risk youth:
State, city, and county arks are government property - the citizens own those parks. The director of the park department could offer events for at-risk youth in the community. One community I observed invited a band to play in a park located next to the highest gang-crime area in town. They then encouraged families living in that neighborhood to attend the concert and offered them free food (supplied free-of-charge by local grocers). The catch was that the band was made up entirely of reformed gang members and their music, while consisting of popular songs, included songs the band members had written discouraging gang activity.

Are there other activities that could be sponsored by and held in your community's parks?  Perhaps swimming lessons, ball games, basketball, foot races, or radio-controlled events?


Establishing or participating in the Big Brothers and Big Sisters Program:
The Big Brothers and Big Sisters program "typically targets youth (aged 6 to 18) from single parent homes. Service delivery is by volunteers who interact regularly with a youth in a one-to-one relationship. Agencies use a case management approach, following through on each case from initial inquiry through closure. The case manager screens applicants, makes and supervises the matches, and closes the matches when eligibility requirements are no longer met or either party decides they can no longer participate fully in the relationship." (Center for the Study and Prevention of Violence)


Adopting a program like the Midwestern Prevention Program:
"The Midwestern Prevention Program (MPP) is a comprehensive, community-based, multi-faceted program for adolescent drug abuse prevention. The MPP involves an extended period of programming. Although initiated in a school setting, it goes beyond this setting into the family and community contexts."
(Center for the Study and Prevention of Violence)

bulletAdopting the Quantum Opportunities Program:
"The Quantum Opportunities progr
am is a youth development program designed to serve disadvantaged adolescents by providing education, service, and development activities, as well as financial incentives, over a four year period, from ninth grade through high school graduation. [The] program targets adolescents from families receiving public assistance. [Program] activities begin when youth enter the ninth grade, and continue for four years through high school. [The program] provides education, service, and development activities over a four year period, from ninth grade through high school graduation." (National Center for mental Health Promotion and Youth Violence Prevention. Scroll almost to the bottom of that web page.

bulletConsidering adoption of the Life Skills Training Program:
"The results of over a dozen studies consistently show that the Life Skills Training (LST) Program dramatically reduces tobacco, alcohol, and marijuana use. These studies further show that the program works with a diverse range of adolescents, produces results that are long-lasting, and is effective when taught by teachers, peer leaders, or health professionals. [The] program targets all middle/junior high school students (initial intervention in grades 6 or 7, depending on the school structure, with booster sessions in the two subsequent years)."
(Center for the Study and Prevention of Violence)


Consider Multidimensional Treatment Foster Care:
The "Multidimensional Treatment Foster Care (MTFC) program is a cost effective alternative to group or residential treatment, incarceration, and hospitalization for adolescents who have problems with chronic antisocial behavior, emotional disturbance, and delinquency. Community families are recruited, trained, and closely supervised to provide MTFC-placed adolescents with treatment and intensive supervision at home, in school, and in the community; clear and consistent limits with follow-through on consequences; positive reinforcement for appropriate behavior; a relationship with a mentoring adult; and separation from delinquent peers."
(Center for the Study and Prevention of Violence)


Encouraging area Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, and other youth-serving organizations to sponsor programs and events for at-risk youth:
There is a Girl Scout troop with an outreach program for girls behind bars. They mentor them, socialize with them, and are positive peer models. Both the Girl Scouts involved and the girls behind the bars are learning important lessons about making choices and the consequences of one's actions. Are there other programs the Scouts or other youth-serving agencies could provide?


Please revisit Alternative Sentencing as a Solution - "Mentoring."


Offering a Children At Risk Program:
The National Institute of Justice's Children at Risk (CAR) Program offers youth an opportunity to escape the path taken by all too many similarly situated youths in the United States - those 11-13 years of age living in distressed inner-city neighborhoods. 
The Children At Risk Program was developed in order to prevent high-risk adolescents from using drugs and getting involved in delinquency. It  was developed, funded, and monitored by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University.

The at-risk children in the study were defined as adolescents 11 to 13 years of age living in narrowly defined, severely distressed neighborhoods in Austin, Texas; Bridgeport, Connecticut; Memphis, Tennessee; Savannah, Georgia; and Seattle, Washington.

The central operational goal of CAR was to implement a highly collaborative program to address problems at the youth, family, peer group, and neighborhood levels simultaneously. It tested the feasibility and impact of integrated delivery of a broad range of services to the 338 participating youths and all members of their households. 

Case managers collaborated closely with staff from criminal justice agencies, schools, and other community organizations to provide comprehensive, individualized services that targeted neighborhood, peer group, family, and individual risk factors. 

Results from CAR were mostly encouraging. Youths in the treatment group, compared with youths in the control and comparison groups, participated in significantly more social and educational activities, exhibited less antisocial behavior, committed fewer violent crimes, and used and sold fewer drugs in the year after the program ended.

CAR treatment methods included: tutoring; mentoring; treatment for drug and alcohol abuse; parenting education; and individual, group, or family counseling. 

One year after the program ended, CAR youths had more positive peer support than youths in the control group, associated less often with delinquent peers than youths in the control group, felt less peer pressure to engage in delinquent behaviors than youths in the control group, and were less frequently urged by peers to behave in antisocial ways than youths in the control group.

The average CAR program, when operating at full strength, served 90 participants and a similar number of family members (83) per year at a cost of $420,000. This amounts to slightly less than $4,700 a year per youth participant. When family members are included, the cost per individual served falls to $2,400. As programs gain experience, these costs may be reduced.

The $4,700 annual cost per child in the experimental, five-city test of the program is substantially less than the cost of years on probation (roughly $1,000 to $6,000) or a certain-to-be-repeated jail or prison term (about $15,000 to $40,000). If CAR produces a lower recidivism rate than probation or commitment then it's even more cost effective. (Harrell, et al., 1999, page)


Adopting the Healthy Start Program:
The Healthy Start Program in Hawaii is a child abuse prevention program which incorporates area hospitals, new parents, and paraprofessional home visitors.


Considering Pathways to Success, a SafeFutures Program:
"The Pathways to Success after-school program for at-risk youth is designed to address behavioral problems and reduce the likelihood of juvenile delinquency by engaging youth in a variety of age-appropriate programs focused on vocational training, entrepreneurship, recreation, and arts education.

"Most afterschool programs implemented under SafeFutures included two or more activities, most commonly recreation and tutoring/homework assistance, and included both structured activities and free time during which youth could choose from various options. Recreational activities and media commonly included organized sports, free play, books, videos, games (ranging from board games to interactive games), and arts and crafts. Academic services generally focused on homework assistance, although some programs provided more structured tutoring activities." (Morley, et al., 2000, page)


Adopting a multi-agency, multi- purpose approach to delinquency prevention: 
A variety of multi-agency, multi-purpose approaches may be used to prevent delinquency and to reverse youthful movement into delinquent behavior. The SafeFutures "Delinquency Prevention Program encompasses a range of activities and services for at-risk youth and juveniles who have had contact with the juvenile justice system. This program promotes prosocial activities that can be offered in any setting, including school. Suggested activities include tutoring and remedial education, work awareness or employability skills, health and mental health services, alcohol and substance abuse prevention, leadership development, or recreational services."
(Morley, et al., 2000, page)


Duplicating the Bethesda Day Treatment Program:
The "Bethesda Day Treatment program serves youth between 10-18 years old who have committed status and delinquent offenses. Bethesda offers a unique blend of treatment and intervention for the whole family.

"This program provides comprehensive services designed to meet every type of need including: licensed after school and evening day treatment, individualized alternative education, family-systems counseling, residential group home, licensed substance abuse counseling and licensed short-term foster care. 

"Clients receive at least six months of treatment which may include as much as 55 hours of treatment each week. Home visits and Bethesda's Family Systems counseling are part of each clients weekly schedule. Parent meetings and training workshops are held monthly. Case managers individually tailor the program to meet the client's needs for individual, group or family based treatment modalities." (Bethesda Day Treatment, no date, page)


Providing service learning experiences:
"Thousands of high schools, colleges, and universities now offer their students an opportunity to related the content of specific courses to counterparts in the community. For example, a student taking a course on substance abuse in college may complete a service learning experience by riding with police as they enforce drug laws, observing substance abuse intervention counselors at work, and interview substance abusers. All of this is done in order to expand upon and deepen a student's understanding of the course material to which the service learning experience was attached.

"There may be high schools and institutions of higher learning in your community which support service learning. Perhaps they can get involved in the work of youth-serving agencies and contribute to gang prevention and intervention efforts. "The critical distinguishing characteristic of service-learning is its twofold emphasis on both enriching student learning and revitalizing the community." (Miami-Dade Junior College, 1996, page)


Offering a continuum-of-care for at-risk and delinquency girls:
"The continuum-of-care services for at-risk and delinquent girls component focuses on providing comprehensive gender-specific prevention, intervention, and treatment services to young women, along with case management and follow-up. Seattle's (WA) Cambodian Girls Group is an example of one of the more comprehensive gender-specific programs. Numerous studies suggest that as many as 10 percent of young females are at extremely high risk for serious criminal activity. 

"Gender-specific programming may include health education (e.g., an introduction to female anatomy and self-care, basics on appropriate prenatal care, and information about safe sex), health services, parenting skills, or childcare services for girls who are parents. It also may include activities supporting basic education, job training, life management skills, and personal growth focused on developing a more positive self-image and greater sense of responsibility." (Morley et al., 2000, page)


Providing job placement services:
Gainful employment is an insulator for the individual against involvement in gang activity and youth violence and may help break the cycle of recidivism of career offenders and long-time gang members. Some of these individuals may be helped by teaching them how to search for a job (i.e., networking, classified/display ads, on the Internet, specialty publications), complete a job application (which may take some literacy training), and how to behave during job interviews, and how to negotiate salary and other conditions of employment.

Providing access to job training and day care so mothers and fathers seeking employment can attend on-site interviews with employers. Access to daily newspapers, telephones, and the Internet would be helpful as would additional information on employer expectations (i.e., punctuality, collegiality, hard work), how to dress properly, and matters of personal hygiene.


Supporting life skills education:
Many people, not just youth at-risk, have trouble making ends meet due to their lack of certain like skills. Like skills include being able to budget one's time and finances, knowing what health-life-property insurance are and why they are important to possess, and how to read a contract (for use when renting a place to live or making a significant purchase). 

The Utah State Board of Education has a site which describes each of several important life skills including lifelong learning, complex thinking, effective communication, working collaboratively with others, responsible citizenship, employability, and character development and ethics.


Providing programs which build self-confidence and self-esteem:
While the jury is still out on whether low self-esteem causes gang involvement, common sense suggests that youths with a high regard for themselves (self-esteem) may be less likely to behave in a way which will bring disgrace upon themselves. 

As long as the audience to which they are playing out their lives is law abiding, this may be true. If, on the other hand, the audience is primarily made up of fellow offenders, self-esteem is maintained through continued offending and expressions of disrespect for the law. 

Perhaps the secret is get children who are at risk of becoming gang members involved with a positive peer group and positive adults as role models. This can be done when at-risk youths are identified at a very early age and there is a program available designed to build self-esteem. Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, and Big Brothers/Big Sisters are examples of youth-serving agencies which may be able to provide this service. (See the Model Program)


Facilitating the creation of faith-based prevention and intervention efforts:
(2000), in his study of faith-based approaches to reducing gang activity and youth violence, reflects upon a variety of topics related to this kind of approach. Included is a consideration of: the challenges of building the capacity to provide this kind of service; obtaining funding; evaluating the effectiveness of the efforts; securing focused leadership; targeting high-risk youth; the need for collaboration; the importance of planning and program strategies; building trust; and the role of faith in providing these services. (Trulear, 2000, page)


Adopting the best practices of Safe Futures:
As of this writing, only six communities in the United States have an experimental program called Safe Futures. They were all funded through the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention for a period of only five years. I visited two of the Safe Futures programs. Safe Futures describes itself as:

"A federally-funded [program] aimed at reducing youth violence and delinquency, and focused on strengthening families. Safe Futures provides prevention, intervention and treatment services to high risk and delinquent youth and their families. It links them to a variety of free, comprehensive services within the ... community." (Safe Futures: City of St. Louis, 1998)

"Among the offerings of the Safe Futures programs are mentoring, tutoring and G.E.D. classes, job training and placement, recreation, counseling, cultural enrichment, parenting skills classes, after school programs, crisis intervention, home visits, parent education, leadership development, restitution (whereby clients pay their victims for the harm they inflicted upon them), community service, language assistance (for those who only speak a language other than English), intensive after-care for youthful offenders, and gang suppression. While some clientele are not in gangs, a significant proportion of them are or are at-risk of joining a gang. According to the Seattle Safe Futures director, "The community planning board approved a special emphasis on immigrant and refugee youth and their families with an initial focus on Vietnamese and Cambodian communities, and girls at risk of delinquent or criminal behavior who are involved or are at risk of being involved in gang activity." (Seattle Safe Futures Fact Sheet, 1009)

In addition, the Safe Futures effort attempts to build coalitions throughout the community in hopes of bringing together the major social institutions (i.e., family, faith, schools, justice system and government, business, health care) in collectively addressing the issues of gangs and delinquency.

This concludes our consideration of public sector social institutional involvement in the reduction of gang activity and youth violence. Now we'll turn our attention to the private sector social institutions to explore what the faith community, businesses and business organizations, health care, and mass media could do to reduce gang activity and youth violence.


Additional Resources: The OJJDP has an excellent resource on three "best practice" youth violence and gang prevention programs: Introduction, the Boston Community Centers' Streetworkers Program, the Mayor's Anti-Gang Office and the Gang Task Force, and Se Puede.

You can see how Salt Lake City (UT) organized to address its gang situation. 

Several Search Institute publications focus on effective service-learning. provides similar literature. You can also learn more about Youth Serving Agencies at the Search Institute's site.

"What Kids Need: Developmental Assets" is available online.

2002 Michael K. Carlie
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means without permission in writing from the author and copyright holder - Michael K. Carlie.