Root causes of youth violence

Ontario’s Ministry of Children and Youth Services website identifies nine root causes of youth violence. They are:

  1. Poverty
  2. Racism
  3. Issues in the education system
  4. Family issues
  5. Health
  6. Lack of youth voice
  7. Lack of economic opportunity for youth
  8. Issues in the justice system
  9. Community design

From their site:

The conditions of the communities where young people live not only greatly affect the quality of their lives and the opportunities available to them, but also how they perceive themselves, society and their role in it.

Regrettably, right across Ontario, there are many examples of poor planning and poor design of the built and the developed natural environment, creating places that make some youth feel powerless and isolated, leading them to believe that their options are as limited as their horizons.

These negative factors include physical and psychological isolation from the broader community; bleak landscapes with no inviting places to gather or play and little usable green space; a lack of adequate and accessible social and physical infrastructure; limited or non-existent transportation services; and unsafe streets, common areas and passageways.

Youth in many neighbourhoods are cut off from the wider community by geography or a lack of access to transit, and for these same reasons find job searches and getting to jobs challenging. The same circumstances leave many parents with little time to parent or engage with their children’s schools or their community.

A major concern of those we met was the lack of anywhere for youth to go. We found neighbourhoods characterized by unwelcoming environments and a disturbing lack of places for youth to gather, play or create. This leaves youth with the greatest need for such facilities with no positive outlet for their energy and time, no space or facilities for creative self-expression and no place that fosters contact with coaches and other positive mentors. When these youth hang around, for lack of anything better to do, they are then often stereotyped and harassed for so doing, further driving their sense of alienation.

There is a similar lack of space for organizations seeking to work with youth, particularly organizations led by youth themselves. This further reduces the number of services and programs available to the youth who need them the most.

When it comes to youth violence, those who deal with it are largely accustomed to intervening and enforcing. Preventative efforts are a little less typical. Prevention, though, is what is necessary. The above excerpt leads us to believe that through responsible community planning and the development of an effective built environment we can reduce/prevent youth violence. A novel idea, one that should be paid more attention to by all parties/stakeholders involved in the design of community.

Among other benefits associated with reducing/preventing youth violence, the costs of youth crime might be reduced significantly by making sound investments in our communities. For example, according to the Institute for the Prevention of Crime:

A dollar invested now in parent training or stopping youth dropping out of school avoids $7 for increased incarceration. A dollar for enriched child care saves $17 in criminal justice costs. Over time the costs of investing in pre-crime prevention generate dividends for Canadians who will live better lives. Taxpayers will save notional costs many times over by reducing the need for policing, lawyers and corrections to respond to these crimes.

Lets start investing more dollars in more communities.

Root causes of youth violence

One thought on “Root causes of youth violence

  1. pfeiferlaura says:

    This is really interesting. It seems like one of those things that we should all intuitively know (i.e. that a healthy community – family, school, opportunities, design should all lead to healthy, well-adjusted, succesful children and youth) but it is nice to see some investigation of it as well.

    I also like that this idea goes one step further than the Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design way of thinking. CPTED looks to design spaces to deter crime from taking place in that location (presumably it then takes place in places not following CPTED principles).

    Instead, this way of thinking focuses on the role that community design (along with other factors) can play in detering children and youth from falling into criminal behaviour in the first place (not just where they do it) – making sure there are spaces to gather and create together, spaces to belong and feel like you are part of a community. I love pro-active thinking! Brilliant.

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