Americans study youth violence in Britain

2nd May 1997 at 01:00
Attempts are being made to establish links between schools here and in the US to tackle youth conflict and violence.

Researchers from Wayne University, Detroit, have arrived in West Yorkshire to share ideas in the face of increasing classroom disturbances in both the US and this country.

They claim that the escalation in violent crime in the US over the past decade is a trend reflected in other Western countries.

Professor Ike Krasner, principal investigator from Wayne University, said the rapid growth of violence involving youth, especially of school age, was of great concern.

"Research has demonstrated that children exposed to high levels of violence exhibit symptoms of psychological distress," he said. "In the view of many US residents, violence is rampant in America especially in the nation's urban areas, among the young. However, we have not taken the time to look elsewhere in Western society.

"Studies of violence in other Western nations have demonstrated strong parallels to the same phenomenon in the US. A study of crime among young people in Edinburgh in 1990 provides one example that is strikingly similar to the experiences of America. Drugs are a major and universal problem in schools.

"We strongly feel that we all need to be willing to look further afield in our search for solutions to the problem.

"Other countries may be able to provide us with better models of youth violence, ones that could help us to make inroads towards solving the problem. In turn, programmes of proven effectiveness in the US may be of value to their counterparts in other nations."

The Americans have tentatively targeted Huddersfield in West Yorkshire, as one focus of their search because of its similarities with Detroit: it is an industrialised city with similar problems, including unemployment and economic inequity.

"Most importantly, both cities are experiencing violence both in the general population as well as among young people," said Professor Krasner.

"Some of these features make Huddersfield a better model for Detroit than some other American cities."

Professor Krasner, who is in this country with Dr Victor Wooddell, said they had already seen examples of excellent leadership and commitment among staff in Huddersfield which can turn a school around.

"They have stayed on, not run away," said Professor Krasner. "These are dedicated, committed and very caring people. I have seen the kind of relationships they have with these children, as they walked in the corridors. You can't hide it."

Professor Krasner and Dr Wooddell are spending time talking to Kirklees' behaviour support team. They will interview staff in various schools. This will be followed by a survey of students with an above-average exposure to violence.

The researchers will examine violence prevention schemes already in place to discover what seems to work, and schools will be invited to exchange programme ideas. The researchers hope to stage an international conference involving staff and students.

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