Leaving the Gang Life Behind: The Importance of a Support Network

Posted on November 6, 2012

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While reading today’s New York Times, an article about youth in the juvenile justice system caught my eye. According to the article, more than 80 percent of juveniles who enter the criminal justice system early in life have at some point belonged to a gang, and the average age of first gun use was an incredible 14 years old. The manifestation of this statistic in our own communities is one of the main reasons Sunny Hills Services started CEYD (Community Engagement & Youth Development), a gang-prevention and intervention program for youth ages 11 to 18.

The article goes on to point out several factors considered critical when working with young people involved in the juvenile justice system. The support of a parent or significant other, the encouragement of a mentor, the mobilization of a community, the birth of a child – these positive forces and events are often precursors for youth who manage to successfully leave gangs and/or the juvenile justice system.

In our work with juvenile offenders who are gang-involved or at-risk of gang involvement, Sunny Hills embraces this family-centered approach. We understand that youth need to feel secure and feel the support of his or her immediate family members and social network. Youth who are supported in maintaining connections to adults and family members who care about them are more likely to successfully overcome the challenges presented to them. For those youth who are disengaged from their families and/or support groups, and find themselves without social networks, considerable effort is made to help youth build natural supports. We believe that the determination and resiliency that enables young people to survive in the face of adverse and traumatic circumstances can serve as allies in more structured healthy environments and relationships.

All of our program services such as mentoring, counseling, anger management classes, academic and vocational support, family meetings and recreational activities help youth to develop the assets and competencies that have been proven to reduce risk for delinquency. But while relationships with helping professionals are transient, connections to family and significant others are profound and enduring. If we hope for youth to leave gang life behind, we must commit as a community to not send them off to make this transition alone.

Read the full article on the New York Times website.

Posted in: In the News