“Youth Stat” Begins With Life-Saving Mission

Melissa Bailey PhotoA young man who feared for his life on the streets knocked on the door of juvenile probation.

“Please detain me,” he begged.

The probation office found him a home in a shelter outside New Haven so he wouldn’t become the next victim of gun violence.

Mark White, regional manager for the judicial branch’s juvenile probation program, recounted that story Tuesday at the inaugural meeting of Youth Stat, a new city effort to share information about at-risk kids and figure out to help them. The anecdote gave a glimpse at the dangers kids face on a daily basis—and an example of a challenge that the new team of government agencies and not-for-profits will try to address.

The meeting, which mirrors the police’s weekly CompStat data-sharing confab, is based on a similar program in Baltimore. It drew over 65 people Tuesday to a fourth-floor conference room of Cooperative Arts and Humanities High School. The crowd included the mayor, superintendent, principals, cops, and officials from not-for-profits, the state Department of Children and Families, and the state judicial branch. The meeting was launched in the wake of two murders of teenagers.

Mayor Toni Harp said in tragedies like those, schools often see the warning signs ahead of time.

“Every time someone gets shot,” she said, “school officials could say, ‘We could have told you’” that student was heading for trouble.

But—in part due to student privacy laws—the school district isn’t sharing information about struggling kids with not-for-profits and other agencies that can help, Harp said. The new group has started sharing data on the aggregate level, and aims to get parental consent to start talking about individual kids.

Superintendent Garth Harries opened the meeting by sharing some statistics on 174 students about whom the school district is most worried. The district generated the list based on principals’ recommendations, as well as who got expelled or arrested. Those students were the targets of a canvassing effort two weeks ago.

Harries gave a profile of those 174 kids: The youngest three are 5th-graders, two of whom have already been expelled from school this year. Most (54 students) are in the 9th grade. Twenty-one have been locked up in juvenile detention.

In addition to those 174, another 219 New Haven students have been to juvenile detention, 66 of them more than once.

Schools also see a red flag when students start getting Ds and Fs in school, Harries added. One third of freshmen have failed at least one class. And 2,165 of about 20,000 students have missed at least 10 days of school; 731 have missed at least 20 days.

“What do we do, folks?” Harries asked the room.

White (pictured) said the juvenile probation office needs help placing kids who are afraid to go home because they fear for their lives in their neighborhood. Often, kids know a specific person or group is looking to hurt or shoot them. Kids come to juvenile probation for help.

When that happened recently in New Haven, White said, his staff scrambled to make phone calls to other agencies to find housing for a boy who feared for his safety. The Department of Children and Families (DCF) ended up finding the boy a bed in a shelter outside of the city, White said.

But that was just one kid. Many more ask for help finding a safe place to stay, he said.

“We don’t have the resources to keep kids safe,” White said.

Denise Kupstis, a juvenile probation supervisor in New Haven, said her office is currently handling requests from three other children who fear going home because of specific threats of violence in the streets. Other kids ask for help leaving gangs or the street life.

“Every other day, we have a child that wants to get out or that knows that they’re in danger,” she said.

Kathy Grega (pictured) of the not-for-profit Youth Continuum said she is too familiar with that situation.

“Daily, we have kids come in and say, ‘I want out,’” she said. Often, they say the reason they remain part of a gang is “to be safe.”

Harp said City Hall has grappled with that kind of request as well.

“We had a kid we had to find a place for, who wanted to get out,” she recalled.

Jason Bartlett, the city’s director of youth services, who handled that recent case, said finding help for the kid was difficult. He “had to convince the parent to say they were neglectful” of the child, “even though they weren’t,” so that the kid would qualify for help from DCF.

Harp said she is concerned about how hard it is to find kids a safe place: “If we can’t help the kids who want to get out not get killed, we’ve got a problem.”

Karen DuBois-Walton, executive director of the city housing authority, offered help. The housing authority can fast-track applications for Section 8 subsidized housing to income-eligible families that fear for their safety, she said. The authority recently was able to help a family that “needed to get out of the neighborhood” for just that reason. Once a family has a Section 8 voucher, she noted, “you can go anywhere in the U.S.,” even Puerto Rico.

The discussion gave a glimpse of the type of problem that members of Youth Stat may start solving together.

Kyisha Velazquez, program manager at New Haven Family Alliance, suggested the city set up a youth hotline that kids could call if they want to be whisked away from the threat of violence.

Police Chief Dean Esserman (pictured with Hillhouse High Principal Kermit Carolina) offered a suggestion: creating new task forces—teams of DCF, probation officers and cops—to prevent at-risk kids from becoming victims or perpetrators of crime. He said the goal would be to help them, not to arrest them.

“Our success is not [through] juvenile handcuffs,” he said. He suggested the city create 10 teams and base them in the schools. Each team would work with a caseload of individual kids. The team’s job would be “to save that kid.”

Define “Gang”

Youth services chief Bartlett said before Youth Stat goes saving kids from gangs, it has to understand what a “gang” is.

Assistant Police Chief Archie Generoso said the police department prefers not to use the word “gang,” but “groups.” Kids represent themselves as part of a certain group from a block or neighborhood, and stick together, he said. They may not be committing violent crimes, he said; they may be committing burglaries or breaking into cars. Or they may just be hanging out together. He said the “gang” label sensationalizes the phenomenon.

Harp offered her take from a psychologist’s point of view: From a developmental standpoint, it’s normal for teens to form groups, she said. In adolescence, kids naturally “break away from nuclear families so they can figure out who they are,” she said. They do that by joining groups. It’s a natural developmental evolution, just like the “terrible twos,” she said.

“If we don’t deal with the facts that adolescents join groups,” we won’t understand the problem, she said. The question isn’t whether teens should be part of groups, but whether a given group’s behavior is problematic, she argued.

The discussion wrapped up after two hours. The group vowed to meet again weekly on Tuesdays at 3 p.m. for the next three weeks. A committee is forming to handle an important question: How to address federal student privacy laws so that the agencies can start talking not just about groups, but also about individual kids.

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posted by: Brutus2011 on April 23, 2014  9:40am

I am heartened to see the adults continuing the latest initiative to stop the violence.

I taught at the old Cross Annex High School before it was closed in 2006 or 2007.

I saw and learned a lot—from tough kids who had much potential to teachers courageously fighting to instruct them to building and district administrators (in fairness, one ass’t principal was outstanding) who did not give a darn other than to cover their rear ends.

I fervently hope Mayor Harp can succeed in leading the effort to turn this situation around

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on April 23, 2014  9:51am

Forget this.Will not work.

Six reasons why US is the most violent nation of modern societies.

Violence in the US is a result of our country’s history. These mass murders are the most recent but really they are nothing new, the US has the most violent of histories of any modern society,


posted by: 32knot on April 23, 2014  10:52am

A good idea to attempt to help kids. nobody can say that is a bad thing. However, who decided what kids were put on what is a essentially a goverment watch list! A faceless government office, in this case the BOE, has labeled some kids to be ” at risk”. what other labels were or will be attached to what other kids?? The fact that the City of New Haven decided who would be listed is a dangerous, dangerous idea which has the potential to lead to future problems, including law suits.

If somebody wants to volenteer to be on the list, more power to them, but for BIG BROTHER to decide???  if there was a opposition party in this city that had a voice this infrigement of civil liberties would have never had been allowed to reach this stage. Another example of an intellectual elite that does not have to debate or defend their ideas deciding what is for those that may not think like they do. The end does not justifiy the means.

posted by: connecticutcontrarian on April 23, 2014  11:28am

This is a great start and im glad to see the Mayor move beyond political differences to include people like kermit Carolina. But I’m also struck by the many conversations ABOUT young people that never seem to INCLUDE young people. When do we start to bring their voices and experiences directly to the table?? Why not support a youth-led street outreach campaign or train them to serve as peer mediators? Maybe we as adults should listen more and assume less

posted by: anonymous on April 23, 2014  11:49am

I agree with the above that we should ask local youth what they would like.  But hasn’t that already been done many times?  Here is what they usually say: They want jobs, and workers to help pick up the trash that covers their neighborhood and renders it unattractive.

Cost to hire a teenager for a 30 hour per week summer job at $10/hour: $2,800.

Cost to meet for 3 hours X average $100/hour X 65 people = $19,500.

So for the price of yesterday’s meeting, it would be interesting to know if we could have hired 7 local teenagers to work on projects over the summer from the neighborhoods where the most “at risk youth” are concentrated.  What if each group there had chipped in a couple hundred dollars, instead of paying to drive their staff/car/truck to Co-op high school and worry about breaking privacy laws?

posted by: member on April 23, 2014  12:09pm

So what? Should we sit on our hands and not try something? I was there and helped pick that 16 year old kid off the ground as our members to save this boy a few weeks ago. This is the first big initiative to attempt to stop this pandemic of our youth killing each other,  let’s keep an open mind and hope for the best. Because I for one don’t wish to pick another 16 year up off the ground.
Thanks, Lieutenant Gary W. Cole, NHFD, Hill Station.

posted by: member on April 23, 2014  1:42pm

I’m sorry but there is way more to it then picking up rubbish.First off it begins at home, it begins with family, it begins decisions,  it begins with opportunities, it begins with being a parent, it begins with knowledge of what your kids are up to, it begins breaking the cycle, it begins with wanting better for yourself, it begins with discipline. So no you are 100% wrong when you say pay someone 10 bucks an hour the clean up rubbish and that’ll keep a kid from picking up a 38 and putting it to a 16 year olds ear and firing.

posted by: member on April 23, 2014  1:52pm

By the way here is my schedule this evening.  Bring my 12 year old to softball practice at 10 of 5 because because my 7 year old has softbsll practice at 5 at a field 10 minutes away , but how will I ever do that because my 10 year old has a scrimmage baseball game at an entire other field, so I ask my neighbors to bring that one. Oh then I have to make sure I’m there at all 3 events so my kids see me sitting there clapping and saying how great they’re doing. But this is after I help them with their homework and feed them dinner. It’s about involvement in a childs life. I’m not saying I’ll be able to stop my kids from being the worst kid on the planet earth, but I can say they’ll know the consequences.

posted by: Paul Wessel on April 23, 2014  2:39pm

This kind of coordination and, hopefully, integration is important.  It’s a hopeful sign for our city.

posted by: anonymous on April 23, 2014  3:13pm

Gary Cole: We all agree that lots of things are needed, but it’s certainly an uphill battle to do any of them when you ignore what hundreds of our young people are actually asking for. 

How come the places where youth have summer jobs and nice places to go outside have almost no shootings, while the ones where they don’t have dozens of shootings?

posted by: Anderson Scooper on April 23, 2014  4:59pm

The United States needs to de-criminalize drug use, and to allow legal clinics to disburse whatever people want, (while encouraging people to get help.)

Unless we take the money out of the drug trade, these kids are going to continue being sucked in to a world of violence. It’s really that simple.

posted by: member on April 23, 2014  5:28pm

Ignored? The first meeting of the Youth Stat was about 24 hours ago. I can guarantee these issues are being discussed and are not going to be ignored. The City has tons of “nice places to go” and they also do the best they can do with what is within their jurisdiction to do. Unfortunately alot of the issues you speak of regarding rubbish, which alot is on private property and run down private dwellings is a bit of a problem to resolve. I can tell you there needs to be a lot of out of the box thinking and I think this is certainly the beginning of a lot of that. I believe Mayor Harp is gonna consider just about anything and ignore nothing. Every time there is a youth involved shooting there is always someone quoted in the paper as saying “these kids have nothing to do here” and “the city needs to do more for these kids” I’m sorry I was born and raised in the city and work here and I have to say there is plenty off nice things to do that the city provides. But the city cannot force parents and our youth to go there and do them. A lot of it lies right smack dab on having positive role models in these youth’s lives.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on April 23, 2014  6:18pm

H Rap Brown said violence is as American as cherry pie.There are more than 11,000 persons killed by gunfire every year in the U.S. There are more citizens incarcerated per capita in the U.S.than any other country in the world.There is no Solution.Some people like living by the sword and indeed,dying by it.We already have New Haven Project Longevity and what has it done?

posted by: Noteworthy on April 23, 2014  8:44pm

We have been spending money on street outreach workers and open schools for years. When it was launched with much fanfare by the previous mayor, he famously claimed that with the help of Yale, the city knew who the handful of kids were that were at risk and trouble makers. It appears none of whatever it was that has been going on has worked. In other words, no results. So why do we continue to fund the things that have not demonstrably produced results? Because as sure I write this, the current mayor will want to spend money on a new program of interventions with no sunset or accountability on the results.

posted by: JohnTulin on April 24, 2014  8:06pm

Noteworthy - It is not about results, its about appearances, fanfare, and the roll out.  Just like the schools.

posted by: Pastor T on April 29, 2014  9:59am

Most people know the “starfish story.” The fact that violence continues should be the motivation to keep on trying and never a “reason” to give in to cynicism and just give up!  I applaud these efforts. We may never save them all, but should never stop endeavoring to save as many as we can. We all want greater results, meanwhile we will rejoice over every single victory! It’s hard to measure the statistics of those who would have been killed or whose lives would otherwise have been destroyed if someone hadn’t stepped in to simply care.


posted by: Jones Gore on April 30, 2014  4:06pm

Again where are the parents?