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Community Programs to Promote Youth Development
Physical and Psychological Safety
At the most basic level, safety is essential for positive development. Safety is both a physical and a psychological phenomenon. Starting with the physical side, positive settings must be free from violence and unsafe health conditions because of their direct impact on physical health and survival. Childhood sexual abuse appears again and again as a causal factor in numerous adult psychological disorders (Finkelhor, 1990; Briere and Runtz, 1991); it is a profound breach to the trusting relationships that attachment and object relations theorists see as critical to positive development. Both school health professionals (Institute of Medicine, 1997b) and professionals working in the area of youth development programming design, implementation, and evaluation (Pittman et al., 2000b) have articulated a variety of other safety issues, including freedom from exposure to environmental hazards, infectious agents, and both unintentional and intentional injuries. The corollary is that adults in charge of youth need to do more than just mouth the importance of safety; they need to take extra steps to instill practices that reduce the probability of unforeseen threats. Having guns in the home, for example, increases the likelihood of their use by adolescents (Blum and Rinehart, 1997). Similarly, fears of physical hazards and violence have made parents wary of their children’s schools and community centers.
The psychological side of safety is also of great importance. The experience, witnessing, or even the threat of violence sends psychological ripples through a community of adolescents that can be severe and longlasting. Youth who are victims of violence, as well as those who witness violence, show continuing symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder, including depression, dissociative reactions, helplessness, emotional disregulation, aggression, intrusive thoughts, and flashbacks (Dubrow and Garbarino, 1989; Martinez and Richters, 1993). Experience of violence and harassment in school (being picked on, hit, or talked about unkindly) are related to skipping school, more negative attitudes toward school, lower achievement levels, and fewer friendships (Jackson and Davis, 2000; Scales and Leffert, 1999). Finally, biological research shows that prolonged stress, such as that from experience with the threat of violence, is associated with suppression of immune response and deleterious effects on the brain, with likely effects on the capacity to learn (Cynader and Frost, 1999).
There are also community-level effects of violence. Violence tends to breed more violence. When youth are victimized by others, they often