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Youth violence: ‘We must focus on a collaborative public health approach’ to this matter

by Charlie Caswell Jr. —

It is no secret we have an epidemic of youth violence shifting to a pandemic.

This is the case I have been sharing for more than seven years, as I have worked with many stakeholders to try to help mitigate Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs).

ACEs are traumatic events that occur before a child reaches the age of 18. ACEs includes all types of abuse and neglect, such as parental substance use, incarceration, and domestic violence.

ACEs also can include situations that may cause a child to experience trauma, such as having a parent with a mental illness or being part of a family going through a divorce.

A landmark study in the 1990s found a significant relationship between the number of ACEs a person experienced as a child and a variety of negative outcomes in adulthood, including poor physical and mental health, substance use, and risky behaviors.

The more ACEs experienced, the greater the risk for these outcomes.

We have a lot of people working in silos, doing good work.

During Saturday’s (Jan. 7) Memphis Shelby Crime Commission’s community forum on juvenile crime, we heard from Memphis Police Chief Cerelyn “CJ” Davis, Juvenile Court Judge Tarik Sugarmon, Susan Deason of Memphis Allies, and Darren Goods, deputy commissioner of the Office of Juvenile Justice at the Tennessee Department of Children Services.

The forum began with a video of youths confined in the juvenile justice system sharing their testimony.

As usual, however, the forum’s panel lacked youth voices. If we are ever going to get to the root cause of youth violence, we need youth voices at the table.

The forum, held at New Salem Missionary Baptist Church, was packed with attendees, who came to hear solutions.

The room was packed as many concerned citizens came out to hear some solutions and they had solutions they wanted to share.

Chief Davis shared some of the concerns her department faces, such as youths as young as 12 years old committing carjackings and the high number of vehicles stolen by teenagers.

She said many of them go into the criminal justice system and come right back out, repeating the same crimes.

Deason of Memphis Allies shared the vision of their new initiative under the umbrella of Youth Villages. The organization is pursuing collaborations with nonprofits and other organizations around the city to provide specific youths with wrap-around services, some of which have connections to Success Coaches — many of whom had rough pasts, as well.

Judge Sugarmon, who took office Sept. 1, provided input received from youths who are in the juvenile justice system.

He shared how his team is working to address the trauma that many of the youths coming into the system have experienced in their young lives.

His understanding that it is not what is wrong with the young people, but rather what happened in their lives to send them down the wrong road, gave me some hope.

My hope is that he will work to address some root causes of the violent and self-destructive behavior of some of our young people.

Goods of DCS furnished us with information about a number of initiatives the agency is working on with youths reentering society after being released from the Wilder Youth Development Center. Wilder is a juvenile detention center for youths, many of whom have been convicted of violent crimes.

I didn’t hear many answers.

I heard good citizens representing nonprofits or who have a vision of how to help. Yet, they lacked the resources or support to make real change.

There were not many questions from attendees, but many statements were made about what many of them do or want to see done.

People are upset and weary of all the crime and violence throughout Shelby County.

We must focus on a collaborative public health approach to this matter. We all know that we can’t arrest ourselves out of this situation. We must invest more resources and time into our next generation.

Our communities need real investments that provide at-risk youngsters with better opportunities that will set them on a path to becoming productive citizens.

We need to create more jobs and mental health services for them.

I can say the Crime Commission tried, but they must become more intentional about how they seek to get community buy in.

Communities do not want people trying to do things to us, and they are searching for people who will do things with us.

(Charlie Caswell Jr. is the District 6 representative of the Shelby County Board of Commissioners.)

From a summit, concerns reverberate about youth and crime

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