Prevention of Violence Related Injuries
John Bolland, Ph.D., Principal Investigator
Homicide is ravaging young African American men, especially those living in inner cities. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2005 African American men between the ages of 15 and 34 were killed through homicide at a rate of 85 per 100,000 more than eight times the rate of white males within the same age range1. Black males 18-24 years old have the highest homicide offending rates. Their rates are more than 3 times the rates of black males 14-17 years old and almost 5 times the rates of black males age 25 and older2. Crimes are associated with that age group as well. While the rate of violence across the country has dropped sharply in recent years in 1990, the death rate for African American males ages 15-24 was 137 per 100,000 there is little understanding of why the decrease has occurred or how to work toward improving the situation further.
Twenty years ago when the Board of Trustees approved establishment of a UAB research center in the field of injury control that action triggered a remarkable series of scientific achievements that have saved thousands of lives. The future impact is incalculable.
Dr. Malcom Portera
Chancellor, University of Alabama System
Dr. John Bolland, an associate professor of health behavior in the UAB School of Public Health, is the principal investigator for an evaluation study of a violence intervention project in Mobile, Alabama. Violence prevention or reduction programs rarely undergo rigorous scientific evaluation, which means others interested in using a specific program in their own city have little information about why or through what specific mechanisms that program works. Without such knowledge, programs are difficult to replicate properly and thus often do not produce the same results in secondary locations. Dr. Bolland's study, funded by the ICRC, is a scientific evaluation of the Family Intervention Team (FIT) Program as implemented by the Mobile Police Department in Mobile's inner city.
Dr. Bolland's study has two goals: to determine what about the FIT program actually helps lower violence in inner cities; and what aspects of a youth's community, lifestyle and personality may serve as protective factors helping him or her avoid involvement in violence. To accomplish the first goal, he and his team are conducting an ongoing process evaluation of the FIT program, observing the FIT specialists during their interactions with inner-city families and documenting what happens. Initial visits to several FIT specialists have been completed, as well as follow-up interviews, and interviews with caregivers are still in progress. By analyzing the completed data, the research team will be able to determine how the program operates "on the street," and adjustments can then be made as needed. The program's importance has been recognized; when the new mayor of Mobile was elected in 2007, he announced that the city not only would continue support the program, but also would add funding to it.
The second goal, an outcome evaluation, involves analyzing data from the ongoing Mobile Youth Survey, a longitudinal study of youths living in high-poverty neighborhoods in inner-city Mobile. The total sample size for these data now stands at more than 9,500, with more than 24,000 interviews, making it possibly the largest study of its type ever conducted. Researchers so far have discovered several important findings from the data.
A primary finding is the fact that connectedness appears to be an important protective factor against hopelessness (which is strongly linked to an increase in risk behaviors) among low-income adolescents. Therefore, programs such as FIT, which facilitate connectedness among youths who feel isolated, could have great benefits, improving the connection between adolescents and their families and schools.
Other findings still being analyzed include that psychological characteristics of adults are affected by neighborhood disorganization, which in turn affects parenting style, an important factor in adolescent development. This means that programs possibly should be directed at the entire family unit, not just the adolescents. Programs which strengthen the role of birth mothers appear to be well-advised, but those which focus on birth fathers were found not to have such an impact. In addition, the issue of residential mobility (household relocations, which sometimes involve the entire household but more often involve only the relocation of the child to a relative's or friend's residence) is being studied further to develop better intervention programs.
Some of the solutions to inner-city violence would involve major social change combating poverty, for example, or developing a culture that highly values education in low-income communities. Dr. Bolland's evaluation will help identify which of those factors are most important in contributing to violence. But, it will also help identify what each city can do to help save its own, one youth at a time.
- 1 National Center for Health Statistics Health, United States, 2007 With Chartbook on Trends in the Health of Americans, Hyattsville, maryland: 2007. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/hus/hus07.pdf on June 23, 2008.
- 2 Homicide trends in the United States. http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/homicide/homtrnd.htm#contents on June 23, 2008.
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