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Building Credibility in Street Outreach
By National Gang Center - Fall 2013 Newsletter
Published: 01/20/2014

Streetgang As an important component of comprehensive gang control strategies, street outreach programs across the United States seek to reach out to marginalized youth and young adults who may be involved in delinquent or violent gang behaviors. Most current street outreach programs have not been evaluated, and there is still no consensus regarding the most successful best practices for street outreach programs. To discuss the intricacies of outreach programs, OJJDP recently convened a panel of outreach program practitioners at the Third Annual Summit on Preventing Youth Violence. The panel discussed emerging best practices in street outreach based on panelists’ experiences in implementing outreach programs.

Street outreach workers, also known by other titles such as gang outreach workers and gang interventionists, play an integral role in gang violence reduction initiatives. Although numerous outreach programs have been implemented differently, the broad purpose of the outreach worker encompasses advocacy and mentoring, conflict resolution, and crisis response. The role of a street outreach worker includes engaging gang members as clients; assisting them and their families in accessing needed social and education services; reducing clients’ bonds to gangs as well as their participation in gang-related conflict and violence; and being a positive adult role model in a mentoring relationship with gang members.

Outreach work is not a 9-to-5 job. It takes grit, passionate dedication, and strong commitment to the community and to the targeted population outreach staff work with. Formerly incarcerated individuals returning to their communities, who may have a past in gang involvement, make powerful change agents, with immense capacity to connect with gang-involved youth and their families. However, the risk of hiring former gang members or ex-offenders can present significant challenges to the credibility of an outreach program and its perceived trustworthiness for law enforcement.

The summit panel discussion focused on this central challenge for street outreach programs that is evident across divergent programs: building program credibility which includes developing effective cooperative relationships with law enforcement. Summit panelists provided a number of suggestions that can be summed up as follows:
  1. Begin with a structured program:
    This includes well-defined goals, a target population of clients based on a thorough community gang assessment, policies and procedures for outreach staff, and a system of documentation for case management of clients and other program operations. Work with law enforcement partners to develop a standardized vetting process when hiring outreach staff. Clarity of program purpose, transparency of program operations, and ethical principles consistent over time set the foundation for a respectable and reliable program.

  2. Establish clear roles and boundaries for both outreach staff and law enforcement:
    It is just as important for outreach workers to build trust with clients and community as it is to build an effective working relationship with law enforcement. Discretion is key. Predetermined procedures are essential. Outreach staff should stay out of case investigations. Conversely, outreach workers are not confidential informants; law enforcement officers should not try to garner investigative information about clients from staff. When information sharing is relevant to client case management, crisis response, or safety issues concerning an outreach worker, the outreach supervisor should coordinate contact between police and staff.

  3. Provide training for outreach staff and cross-training for law enforcement:
    Outreach is intense and demanding work requiring a broad array of skills. Support outreach staff with professional development training in their roles, responsibilities, operational procedures, and skills needed for the occupation. Likewise, training for law enforcement officers is also beneficial. When officers are aware of what street outreach is, the purpose it serves, and the value it provides, they are more likely to want to cooperate with the street outreach program.

    Commitment, structure, and ethical behavior are essential elements to building a credible street outreach program. As with any other program of prime importance, however, is the ability of program staff to articulate program purpose and deliver services promised.

Reprinted - National Gang Center - Fall 2013 Newsletter


Comments:

  1. mrm8913 on 01/29/2014:

    hack+0444998-119hack10238=44==4==4819920200201<>21>>!$>>%^&>*>(%&?*(^$@


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