Blagojevich Administration Announces New Program to Help Stop Youth Violence

Officials from Governor Rod R. Blagojevich's Administration today joined with community leaders and state legislators to launch "The Safety Net Works…Not One Life to Lose", a multi-agency initiative designed to help stop violence and killing in communities across the state. The initiative will bring State and community resources together to help young people avoid violence and become healthy adults.

"Too many young and bright lives are lost because of violence in our streets and neighborhoods. We need to put a stop to this cycle. I asked my staff and our experts on violence prevention to look into the best strategies for helping communities prevent violence. This new initiative is the result of that work. We are going to work hand-in-hand with community organizations, religious leaders and legislators to get resources and support directly into communities that need help," said the Governor.

"I am very excited about this project. Under the Governor's direction, we are putting the community coalitions in charge to work with parents and families to improve family relations and enhance positive social interactions, teach non-violent conflict resolution, and establish or strengthen nonviolent beliefs among young people," said IDHS Secretary Carol L. Adams, Ph.D., whose agency will lead the new initiative. "This is not a cookie cutter approach, each community will work together to develop a plan that is unique and address the needs of their community."

According to the F.B.I., in 2006, more than 33,000 youth under age 18 were arrested in Illinois, more than a third of those were for violent crimes. Nearly one in five Illinois youth have carried a weapon, either a gun, knife or club during the past month, reports the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority (ICJIA).

The overall goals of The Safety Net Works are to prevent violence by addressing a wide range of individual, family and community factors that keep young people from reaching their full potential; engage communities in comprehensive, coordinated youth violence prevention activities through a coalition approach that involves state grantees and non-traditional community-based groups; and promote youth engagement and leadership in all aspects of the initiative.

Through The Safety Net Works, a lead organization will work in target communities as the coordinating agency for youth services; out-of-school time programs; juvenile justice activities; educational services; sports, recreational and social activities; child welfare; economic development opportunities; substance abuse prevention; employment services; health services; and domestic violence prevention and intervention.

The program will link young people with educational, training and job opportunities, with a special focus on helping youth attain a high school diploma, something that is vital to avoiding the cycle of violence that befalls too many young people. The initiative will be implemented in communities found to have high rates of poverty, violent crime, domestic distress and clear indications of youth who are not positively engaged with their schools or communities.

"We need to encourage health professionals to take positive steps to combat violence among youth in our communities," said Dr. Damon Arnold, Illinois Department of Public Health Director. "For example, emergency medical workers and first responders can be educated to assess and document cases of violence such as elder, spouse and child abuse as well as rape and sexual assault."

The Safety Net Works will be an ongoing initiative. In the first year, it is anticipated that grants will be awarded to 10 to15 selected targeted communities in amounts that range on an annual basis from $250,000 - $400,000.

Funding for The Safety Net works is open to local health departments, social service agencies, youth-serving agencies, sports, park and recreation agencies, community development agencies and faith-based organizations, and other qualified organizations.

"With the implementation of the Safety Net Works initiative, the State of Illinois is taking a big step forward in partnering with local communities to promote positive youth development and prevent the damaging violence experienced by too many Illinois young people" said Barbara Shaw, Director, Illinois Violence Prevention Authority. "The Illinois Violence Prevention Authority (IVPA) stands ready to assist in making the Safety Net Works project work effectively at both the state and local level."

State agencies participating in The Safety Net Works include: the Illinois Departments of Human Services; Children and Family Services: Public Health; Juvenile Justice, Commerce and Economic Opportunity; Employment Security; Illinois Violence Prevention Authority; ICJIA; the State Board of Higher Education; and the Community College Board.

"The Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority has provided research and other resources from the very beginning of the planning process for the Governor's Youth Violence Prevention Initiative," said Lori Levin, ICJIA's Executive Director. "Our agency is strongly in favor of this innovative plan, in which existing agencies will collaborate in a dynamic effort to stem the violence which has touched, often tragically, too many young lives."

"Community involvement is the best way to help our youth stay on a positive path. It is clear that this program has the potential to save the State of Illinois significant dollars that could otherwise be spent on incarcerating juvenile offenders," said Kurt Friedenauer, Director of the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice.

"The Safety Net Works will be a successful program because it brings a community's resources and norms into consideration when deciding how best to fight crime. Throughout his administration, the Governor has kept in mind regional and local strengths as the state supports communities' economies, workers, families and now efforts to fight crime," said Illinois Department of Employment Security Director James Sledge.