May 2013

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Research by Drs Sandra Celestine and Shelton Jefferson starkly reveals that crime and violence in our schools are now national development, national security and national health care imperatives. They guarantee a worsening of school misbehaviour and youth violence if these issues are not addressed cooperatively by all sectors - government, business, teachers and parents.

A UWI funded research project, the Trinidad & Tobago Youth Project (TTYP) poses five hypotheses regarding at risk youth misbehaviour, school crime and violence problems:

  1. At risk, hot spot communities generate increased risk of damaging psychological problems among the families and children living there.
  2. Hopelessness, depression, unresolved grief and loss are the major types of emotional problems affecting at risk youth.
  3. A multi-modal approach including therapeutic counselling of the child, family guidance sessions with the parent/child and peer group counselling offer the best short-term intervention methods to bring about positive change in the youth and the family.
  4. Music is one of the best methods to engage children and bring about immediate and positive change.
  5. No one method can solve all the environmental factors (drug trafficking, gangs, poverty, etc.) affecting our youth. Any public policy adopted should be culturally relevant to Trinidad & Tobago and have measurable outcomes.

Celestine and Jefferson view the newly released Ryan Report as a very good starting point for abetting Trinidad & Tobago’s problems with youth violence. They note that, while the Report touts the need for multi-disciplinary solutions, it does not include analysis by a criminologist or economist and the psycho-social perspective of psychologists or clinical social workers. It does however highlight the need for further analysis regarding the effect of music on youth violence and misbehaviour and the impact of hopelessness and depression on youth violence and crime.

This Youth Project is researching how depression and hopelessness affect youth behaviour and how the use of music may change it. Preliminary results indicate that the environmental factors present in so-called hot spot areas contribute to hopelessness and depression - which manifest themselves in physical and mental health problems.

TTYP estimates that more than 50% of school youth involved in school crime and violence are afflicted with health problems. These health problems include depression, emotional, verbal, or physical abuse, mood disorders, unresolved grief and loss (caused by witnessing/experiencing the death of friends or family). Such mental health maladies show up daily in school settings as unrepressed anger, disrespect for authority, fighting, sexual misconduct as well as acts of theft and robbery. The often-unseen impacts of these mental health problems are hopelessness, self-harm, suicidal thoughts and suicidal attempts.

According to Dr Celestine the immediate successes of the project are improved behaviour for some students and identification of the specific issues causing a student to misbehave. She emphasizes that initial research data confirm that successful interventions to eradicate student misbehaviour and school violence must include counselling for both child and family.

The researchers are clear. The school system and the criminal justice system are neither trained nor prepared to deal with children having serious mental health problems. Any recommendation to resolve school crime and violence problems must include mental health practitioners such as clinical social workers or clinical psychologists. TTYP will release a White Paper in June and host an At Risk Youth Conference on June 17.

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