"All of our kids are at risk": Too Good For Violence works to divert New Hanover youth from violent crime
Earlier this month, New Hanover County announced the creation of Port City United, a new department to address community violence. But it’s not the only thing the county is doing. There are other county programs, already addressing the issue, too.
Idle hands lead to idle minds – most of us heard the adage as kids, telling us, basically, that staying physically active helps mental health. When it comes to the region’s problem with community violence, experts with New Hanover County are saying essentially the same thing when it comes to the rising levels of juvenile violence, especially gun violence.
“Some of the things we found is that kids, a lot of the time, don’t have much to do. So when you don’t have a lot to do, we kind of tend to fall into that arena of following our peers," said Teresa Huffman, program coordinator with Youth Empowerment Services with Community Justice Services at New Hanover County.
Huffman says one of the main reasons kids end up committing violence is an inability to process emotion or control their actions under emotional duress. That’s where the Youth Empowerment Services division of the county steps in.
The program deals with students that are classified as quote “At risk” — but at risk is not something that only applies to a few children in a classroom of 15 or more.
“All of our kids are at risk, if you really pay close attention, and why am I saying that? Because the moment they leave home, and they go out into the school setting, or the community areas ... they are now prone to picking up different behaviors, or different things that they normally would not have done," Huffman said.
Risks affect children differently, including the major role of traumatic events. According to Jamie Roten, the division manager of Youth Empowerment Services.
“I asked our clinical supervisor earlier today about trends that she sees going on in the community ... She mentioned trauma, the trauma that youth have experienced, you know, you mentioned the gunshots being up. Each one of those gunshots is attached to a number of traumatic events for kids, not only kids, but she mentioned generational trauma. So we have parents who have experienced trauma that's been unaddressed and then their kids also have that trauma," Roten said.
Risk factors like trauma can make the cycle of violence worse — unprocessed emotions lead to arguments, and push them to boil over into violence, which leads to retaliation.
That’s why early intervention is important, Huffman said. Programs like Too Good for Violence — a program run through the New Hanover County Sheriff’s Office — start at the foundation with younger kids, and follow them through their lives in the school system.
Roten’s job actually extends beyond the confines of schools. A child going through Huffman’s programs may be referred to outside services by the school, and that’s where Roten and his team come in to provide things like mental health counseling for the family, get them access to food and housing, and even divert young offenders from the juvenile system and towards a partnership with Cape Fear Community College to teach job and life skills.
And the programs have been effective so far. According to Roten, one of the key findings of their research showed a 45% reduction in the intention to commit aggressive behaviors after completing Huffman’s programs.