Focus on After-School Time for Violence Prevention
An estimated eight million school-age children are home alone after school (U.S. Department of Education, 2001). These are the hours when violent juvenile crime peaks and when youth are most likely to experiment with alcohol, tobacco, drugs, and sex (Snyder & Sickmund, 1999). Although many older children care for themselves after school for an hour or two until a parent comes home, research suggests that some of these children are at risk for poor grades and risky behavior (Pettit et al., 1997, p. 517; National Institute on Out-of-School Time, 2001, p. 2; Dwyer, et al., 1990). This Digest discusses the role of after-school programs, adult-child relationships, and parental monitoring in violence prevention for middle and high school youth.
After-School Programs and Crime Reduction
After-school programs help to reduce juvenile crime and violence because they offer alternative activities for children and youth during their out-of-school time. Several studies support the hypothesis that participation in youth development programs decreases involvement in unhealthy and high-risk activities (Quinn, 1999, pp. 111-112). Fight Crime: Invest in Kids, a national organization of police chiefs, sheriffs, police association presidents, prosecutors, and crime survivors, draws on outcome data from high-quality youth development programs to encourage public investment in high-quality after-school and summer programs for youth. This anti-crime organization reports that high-quality youth development programs provide "responsible adult supervision, constructive activities, and insulation from deleterious pressure from peers and older children during high-risk hours" (Fox & Newman, 1997, p. 4).
Adult-Child Relationships and Crime Reduction
In addition to helping youth make constructive use of after-school hours, after-school programs provide teens with opportunities to develop caring relationships with adults. Supportive adult-child relationships are a central component of high-quality after-school programs (Roth et al., 1998, pp. 435-436). Research on resilience (often defined as the ability to face, overcome, and be strengthened by adversity) in children identifies "protective factors" in the family, school, and community environments that can help reverse or minimize what otherwise might be poor outcomes for children (Bushweller, 1995). Caring and supportive relationships are cited as a critical protective factor for youth (Masten & Coatsworth, 1998).
Other research has found similar effects of constructive adult-child relationships. In surveys of more than 100,000 youth in 200 communities, the SEARCH Institute found that high-quality relationships with parents and other adults, accompanied by constructive uses of time, are critical for healthy youth development. Relationships were among the 40 critical factors, or "assets," identified by SEARCH in its surveys, that appeared to help prevent risky behaviors among youth (Benson et al., 1998; Roehlkepartain, 1998). A study of Chicago neighborhoods also showed benefits of reduced overall violence, even in poor neighborhoods, when community residents increased their level of positive involvement with children (Sampson & Morenoff, 1997).
Reprinted with the permission of the Education Resources Information Center.
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