HELPING YOUTH AT RISK

Jane Quinn, project director for the Carnegie Institute's Council on Adolescent Development, spoke with youths living in so-called high-risk environments as part of a study on community-based services. She shares some of her observations with the Monitor:

* "Many of these kids come from an experience where they have chaos in their family, neighborhoods, and schools. It's hard to move through adolescence surrounded by chaos."

* "Kids say they want people who will make them do the right thing; they want guidance, support, direction, and more structure in their lives."

* The youth most in need of programs have the least access to them: "We need to direct resources to community-based organizations that have knowledge of their community or local problems."

* Gangs meet basic needs of youth by providing safety, something to do, a code to live by, identity: "Key things for adolescents are formulating a personal identity and gangs do that; they have colors, insignias of membership. It's not an irrational act to belong to a gang. The challenge is to diminish the negative experiences of gang activity and direct them to constructive alternatives."

* "We have consistently cut away alternatives - closed libraries, parks, cut school extracurricular activities.... We've got to roll up our sleeves and provide sustained individual attention for these kids."

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