Expectations are Unrealistic for Social Intervention Programmes Alone to Curb Violent Crimes
Dr Deanna Ashley, Executive Director of the Violence Prevention Alliance (VPA) says it is unrealistic to expect that social intervention programmes should, by themselves, have a major impact in curbing violent crime in Jamaica.
She was responding to the findings of the research conducted by the Caribbean Policy Research Institute (CAPRI) entitled “Testing, Testing: Challenges to Measuring Social Programmes for At-Risk Youth” and comments made by University of the West Indies Professor Anthony Clayton, on the opening statement of the report that indicated that despite investment of billions of dollars over decades on a plethora of social interventions there has been no noticeable changes in murders and shootings, nor have the interventions produced evidence that suggest that they are ”working”.
Dr Ashley, said the findings of the CAPRI research were narrow and took a simplistic approach to assessing social interventions, thus the pesky question of credibility.
“Social intervention is only one component that is needed to address the major problem of crime in the country. They (social intervention programmes) in themselves cannot change the violent crimes at the community or national levels as they are targeting individuals and therefore the expected outcome should be a meaningful change in the behaviour and life trajectory of these high-risk youths who are participants to these interventions,” she said.
The VPA Executive Director noted that many other environmental factors must also be considered. “Access to good education and skills training, better access to child guidance and mental health services, availability of safe and clean environment, and better crime management at the community level are all critical components that will enable the reduction in violent crimes,” she pointed out.
Dr Ashley said that what is useful in determining the effectiveness of social interventions would be to track individuals one to five years after participating in a social intervention programme. This will better determine the effect that it had on the recipients’ life. Such studies would also better answer the question of the cost benefit of the social interventions. Dr Ashley noted that studies locally and internationally have clearly demonstrated that the earlier in life that social interventions are implemented, the better and longer lasting are the effects.
In support of this, she used the example of ‘Reach Up: Early Childhood Parenting Programme’ that targeted children from poor families with malnutrition and exposure to violence. These children received their intervention through home visits and parent/child sessions for one year. At follow-up when aged 22 years of age, it was found that the intervention children had done better in school, had higher IQs, had better mental health, were involved in less violence, earned more income and were happier when compared with the control non-intervention children.
This intervention was designed and implemented by the Caribbean Institute for Health Research at University of the West Indies. She noted that securing funding for such long-term studies is often challenging, however, these are the type of interventions that are needed to better assess the outcome and effectiveness of social interventions.
“However, the report prompts more questions rather than providing credible analysis of, for example, cost-benefit, the percentage of the high-risk youth population that was reached through these social interventions, or the number of volatile communities in which they resided. What percentage of the high-risk cohort of children were actually reached in the respective (project) communities?”, she asked.
Meanwhile, she supported the recommendation to strengthen collaboration and coordination among organisations that are implementing social intervention programmes. She said capacity building must be provided for implementing agencies to improve the rigor in their programme design and the development of monitoring and evaluation indicators and methodologies.
Dr Ashley worried that the pipeline of children that drop out of school without any skills and who can barely read and are constantly filling the pool of those getting involved with violence and crime. Social interventions can contribute to their long term, personal development path, which can include changes in social behaviours. However, the need for other prosocial supports, environments and policies must also be in place to begin to see national changes in levels of crime and murder.
“The question should be asked, would the crime and violence be worse if there were no social interventions in those communities?” she asked.