Only a handful of the hundreds of programs designed to stop youth violence actually work, according to a report released in January by U.S. Surgeon General David Satcher. But those programs that have been proven to work can be highly effective, the report said.

The report suggests that “youth crime and violence rates could be ‘substantially’ reduced simply by reallocating the money now spent on ineffective policies and programs to those that do work.”

Effective youth violence programs generally involve life-skills training, behavior monitoring and enforcement, parent training, home visitation, peer-group involvement, and social problem-solving and thinking skills, the report said. Ineffective strategies include gun buyback programs, boot camps, and adult detention programs.

The study, called “Youth Violence: A Report of the Surgeon General,” was ordered by Congress and the Clinton administration after the 1999 shootings at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo. Among the report’s conclusions are that schools are relatively safe and have fewer homicides and nonfatal injuries, compared with homes and neighborhoods.

The report relies on earlier youth surveys to conclude that near-record high numbers of juveniles commit violent acts. But it also finds that juvenile arrest rates for robbery and homicide are dropping, based on research from several sources, including the Justice Department.

“We have made a lot of progress, but the youth epidemic is not over,” Satcher said. “When we look at surveys, we see that there is still a problem. There is also the issue of the role guns play in youth violence. We need to continue our efforts to address the problems of easy access.”

The report also cites a “scientific link between graphically violent television programming and increased aggression in children.” It states that a “substantial body of research now indicates that exposure to media violence increases children’s physically and verbally aggressive behavior in the short term.”

Among other findings of the report:

o Confidential surveys find that 10 pecent to 15 percent of high school seniors report having committed an act of serious violence in recent years, though they are now less likely to involve firearms.

o The proportion of schools that have gangs had been increasing since 1994 and only recently declined in 1999.

But the report’s most significant findings deal with the success rates of so-called “intervention strategies” for preventing youth violence. It identifies a set of standards based on scientific consensus and applies those standards to single out programs that work, are promising, or do not work.

This information can be used by schools, communities, juvenile justice agencies, program funders, and others to aid in their decision-making, the report said.

While the report identified several “promising” practices, it said only seven of the hundreds of youth violence programs in the United States met the surgeon general’s criteria for being a “model” program–one that can be duplicated easily and has a sustained impact.

The seven “model” programs are:

  1. Functional Family Therapy. This program attempts to correct disruptive youth behavior through family case management. Contact: James F. Alexander, University of Utah, Department of Psychology, SBS 502, Salt Lake City, UT 84121; phone (801) 581-6538.

  2. Multidimensional Treatment Foster Care. This program provides an alternative to group or residential treatment or incarceration for antisocial or delinquent teens. Contact: Patricia Chamberlain, Clinic Director, Oregon Social Learning Center, 207 East 5th Street, Suite 202, Eugene, OR 97401; phone (541) 485-2711.

  3. Multisystemic Therapy. This program’s goal is to empower parents with the skills and resources they need to raise difficult teens through family- and community-based treatment Contact: Scott W. Henggeler, Director, Family Services Research Center, Medical University of South Carolina, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, 171 Ashley Avenue, Annex III, Charleston, SC 29425-0742; phone (843) 876-1800.

  4. Prenatal and Infancy Home Visitation by Nurses. This program is designed to serve low-income pregnant women bearing their first child. Contact: David L. Olds, Director, Prevention Research Center for Family and Child Health, 1825 Marion Street, Denver, CO 80218; phone (303) 864-5200.

  5. Seattle Social Development Project. This program decreases problem behaviors by working with parents, teachers, and children. Teachers receive instruction that emphasizes proactive classroom management. In addition, first-grade teachers teach communication, decision-making, negotiation, and conflict resolution skills, and sixth-grade teachers present refusal skills training. Contact: J. David Hawkins, Social Development Research Group, University of Washington School of Social Work, 130 Nickerson, Suite 107, Seattle, WA 98109; phone (206) 286-1805.

  6. Life Skills Training. This is a primary intervantion program designed to prevent the use of “gateway drugs” over a three-year period. Contact: Gilbert Botvin, Principal Investigator, Institute for Prevention Research, Cornell University Medical College, 411 East 69th Street, KB-201, New York, NY 10021; phone (212) 746-1270.

  7. The Midwestern Prevention Project. This program uses active social techniques–such as role-playing, modeling, and discussion–as well as homework assignments to help kids understand and resist the social pressures to use drugs and engage in violent behavior. Contact: Mary Ann Pentz, Principal Investigator, or Sadina Rothspan, Project Manager, University of Southern California’s Department of Preventive Medicine, School of Medicine, U.S.C. Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center, 1441 Eastlake Avenue, MS-44, Los Angeles, CA 90033-0800; phone (213) 764-0325.


“Youth Violence: A Report of the Surgeon General,”