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Social Work faculty member to help Caribbean countries with youth, gang violence



INDIANAPOLIS — Carolyn Gentle-Genitty, interim director of the Indiana University School of Social Work Bachelor of Social Work Program, will travel to five Caribbean countries to help develop new strategies to deal with youth and gang-related violence that have terrorized certain communities in those countries for years.

Selected by the Caribbean Community organization, considered the United Nations for the Caribbean, Gentle-Genitty will undertake an assessment of threats, risk, resilience and protective factors for school and community-based violence in Jamaica, Antigua, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, and Trinidad and Tobago.

Gentle-Genitty, who researches social bonding, has earned a national reputation from her Perception of School Social Bonding instrument.

Youth and gang violence is not a new problem to these Caribbean countries, but a decision to re-think ways to deal with it is. Youths often make up 50 percent or more of the population, she said. There is a strong connection between crime and gang violence and youth development. Concerns about violence led to governmental funds being diverted from education and youth development to security and health-related efforts, such as hiring more police and building more jails and prisons.

“In the past, people would get on the radio and complain and say we need to do something,” Gentle-Genitty said. There would be a quick reaction, and authorities would put more police in schools and cut programs to evening and after-school programs because everyone was worried about safety, she said. That was done despite the fact that research shows having protective factors like after-school programs and having outreach and engagement opportunities for young people actually help deter kids from becoming involved in gang violence.

As the violence continues, the Caribbean countries are looking to develop new strategies to deal with the issue, Gentle-Genitty said.

She will fly May 12 to the Caribbean and begin the first phase of her work: data collection in communities identified as high-risk areas for violence. Her goal during a two day stay in each of the five countries is to identify common risk factors among at-risk communities by conducting surveys and interviews of students at a school and with community members and focus groups to see what they think the problem is, why young people are joining gangs and how it might be dealt with.

The next step is to develop new approaches to counter youth violence and hold teleconferences with each country to discuss which of Gentle-Genitty’s recommendations they want to pursue.

Then in September, she will return to the Caribbean and hold national meetings in each country about the findings of the surveys and the recommendations to implement new programs to reduce violence. She will work closely with governmental departments of education, youth and social development. Before she leaves, Gentle-Genitty expects to oversee the start of training of the people who will turn the recommendations into reality.