2001 BZE: Evaluation: Youth at Risk Pilot Program
Author: Muhammad, N.; Inna Dynamics
St. John's College and the Belize Police Department developed a Pilot Program for Youth at Risk to provide support for thirty Belize City youth considered at risk for delinquency and eventual incarceration. The primary goals of the Pilot Program were to enhance the self-esteem, increase the self-discipline, and expand the awareness of the selected youth; and to develop a model for a program that could be replicated, on a larger scale, by other agencies.
The program had as its secondary goals the sensitisation of the Belize Police Department to the needs of underprivileged youth and the demonstration that institutions not traditionally involved in service to children in difficult circumstances could make an effective contribution in this area.
Purpose / Objective
The purpose of this evaluation is to:
- measure how well the program met its goals/objectives
- determine the impact of the program on the target group
- identify the indirect beneficiaries of the program
- examine the effectiveness of volunteer involvement
- examine the impact and efficacy of the mentoring component of the program
- record the parents' reactions to the program
- ascertain the effectiveness of the program activities
- analyse the community support for the program
- assess the effectiveness of the collaboration between St. John's College and the Police Department
- evaluate the management of the program
- provide information for developing recommendations for effectively replicating the program
This evaluation was carried out over a six-week period and involved consultations, interviews, questionnaires and group meetings with Program Coordinators, the participants and their parents/guardians. The volunteers, mentors and community supporters (cash, service and kind) were also consulted.
The consultant interviewed at length the St. John's College Co-ordinator of the Youth At Risk Pilot Program, and the Police Department Co-ordinator. Additionally, a total of seventeen participants, eleven parents, five volunteers, six mentors, and seven community supporters were interviewed. He also interviewed three former volunteers of the Police Zone Beat Officers and the Officer in Charge. Interviews were conducted with the former President of St. John's College as well as the former Commissioner of Police. The consultant read the extensive background files of the program and also spent a total of 30 hours over the period of review in six of the nine neighbourhoods from which the youth participants were drawn.
Key Findings and Conclusions
The review determined that while the Youth at Risk Program was able to accomplish its five stated objectives, it was only able to reach one of its three stated goals. The program accomplished its objective of exposing 30 youths from different parts of Belize City who were at risk for crime and delinquency, to positive alternatives by expanding their awareness of positive elements of the world around them. Within its limitations, the program was able to place these youths in environments that enhanced their self-discipline and provided them with positive role models as well as helped them to develop a healthy self-image and sense of purpose. The goal of equipping youths with "attitudes necessary to lift themselves out of poverty and delinquency" may have been too ambitious a goal considering the shortness and temporary nature of the exercise in the context of overwhelming opposing forces.
Sixty percent (60%) of the participants (all boys) demonstrated some form of discipline problems, like truancy, staying out late, not listening etc., before the implementation of the program. By the end of Phase I, these same ten boys had stopped giving trouble and were showing positive changes according to their parents. More than three years after this program, the majority of the participants interviewed are still reflecting positive impacts by avoiding some of the negative societal traps (i.e. teenage pregnancy or problems with the law).
The general response from the fourteen of the seventeen (17) participants interviewed is that during and since the program, they have benefited from what they learnt while in the program. Some highlighted the trips to Cockscomb or the caye as learning experiences they had never had before or have not had since the program. Others spoke of personal conversations they had with volunteers that helped them with a personal problem. Ninety percent (90%) of the parents/guardians consulted reported that during Phase I and III, they saw the positive effects of the program's influence on their youth reflected, for example, in less discipline problems
Twenty percent (20%) of the participants interviewed reflected unhealthy practices, like aimlessly hanging out on the corner. By association, one would assume that they were into some of the illicit activities going on around them, but again, during the review, they were not rude or disrespectful in any way. They had good memories of the program and spoke of their benefit, but the combination of urban pressures and low skill development, coupled with lack of ambition, made them appear regressive.
What became apparent from the review was that the achievements were short-lived because of the lack of a sustainable support system within the program. Some of the main connectors of such a support would have been the mentors who would have needed a specific orientation to sustain such a support system. Other players, such as the Police Department's ZBLO, would have also had to be prepared to play a part in such a support system. One would assume that other agencies that work with at-risk youth would have also been included in such a network. No observable actions were taken in this direction, therefore, no positive sustainable support network was achieved.
The second phase of the program involved pairing each of the twenty six youth who completed Phase I with an adult mentor or mentor family for a one-year period. The mentors were adults who had positive attitudes towards life and work, lived positive lifestyles, and wanted to make a positive difference in a child's life. Mentors were expected to plan and carry out at least one positive activity with the youth each month, whether it was visiting the child at home, helping with homework, going to church or any other positive activity that showed the child that he or she was worthy of positive attention.
Fifty percent (50%) of the mentors felt that they would have been better prepared to take on the responsibility if there was a structured orientation prior to meeting the mentee. Seventy percent (70%) of the mentors interviewed met regularly with their mentee throughout the year. As can be noted from the questionnaire in the Appendix, some mentors offered very structured time with their youth.
All of the parents/guardians interviewed spoke highly of the program and its positive impact on their child/children who participated. Some parents seemed relieved to have received the quality of help that the program provided, especially in exposing their youth to the opportunities for a life outside of their immediate surroundings. Parents of male participants were especially worried about their boys joining gangs, being involved with drugs or getting in trouble with the police. One hundred percent of the parents interviewed commented that the program was "too short" and wanted to know when the next program like it would occur.
Without support from many sectors of the community, the program would not have been realized. Cash donations amounting to just over $3,000.00 were received from twenty one individuals and organizations. In-kind contributions valued over $40,000.00 (from almost sixty organizations and individuals) helped to make the program possible.
Another unique aspect was that this program depended completely on support from inside Belize. According to the Coordinators, "this is a Belizean problem and Belizeans with the means should support any effort to do something about it". This strong sentiment on the part of the Coordinators seemed to have been their battle cry whenever they approached any potential donor. According to one supporter, "they were not going to take no for an answer".
The commitment of the Coordinators was a critical factor in the response of the community since they spent a considerable amount of time through letters, visits and follow up to insure that they got what they were asking for. There were, of course, those who just gave because they were asked; some couldn't quite remember the program and had to be reminded, but others remembered quite vividly the appeal of Ms. Lindo.
St. John's College made a huge commitment to the program by providing Ms. Lindo to work full time on the project at full salary. SJC also provided the facilities. The Police Department, for their part, was not as enthusiastic, but they did provide an Officer to work full time for the duration of Phase I and Phase III. In Phase III, they also assigned six Zone Beat Liaison Officers to work as volunteers, on a rotational basis, in the program. The Police Department did not show enthusiasm for the program -- in fact, on several occasions, they had to be prodded to respond according to promised cooperation. Most of the day-to-day logistics for the program had to fall on SJC. Nonetheless, this was a model for future cooperation between Police and other community institutions, especially academic ones, to collaborate on issues of community concerns. The aim of the program was to go to the root causes of anti-social behaviour among these youth, and the Police involvement in this exercise was a vital component.
This program cannot be easily duplicated because it had its own unique features, the apex of which was the dynamism of its coordinators. As was pointed out, theirs was a mission that took on a personal dimension. However, there are many lessons that can be learnt from this Pilot. There are six specific areas of the Pilot that provide valuable lessons: volunteers, mentors, parents, activities, community support and collaboration.
The need for proper training and orientation of volunteers, mentors and parents was a valuable lesson learnt. Not only was it important to have skill training to enhance the effectiveness of these players, but it was also evident from this evaluation that a series of meetings to orient volunteers, mentors and parents, together, about the program's goal/objectives would have been a useful investment. The idea that "it takes a village to raise a child" suggests that all those actors who directly influence the youth should have opportunities to share information and experiences together, more than once during the program.
Another important lesson was that activities should be "a means to an end" rather than an end in itself. The creative learning experience that can come through well-planned activities indicates that they can be effective tools for behaviour modification program such as this one.
The community support that this program enjoyed and the way those contributions were disbursed is also a model for other programs. First, the focus of the support was local; secondly, ninety percent of the support was in-kind, while ten percent was in-cash; and thirdly, the majority of community support directly benefited the participants, while only a small percentage was used for administrative purposes.
Finally, another important lesson that came from the Pilot was that of collaboration. There is room in Belize for more collaborative effort to reach common objectives with these kinds of innovative programs. For example, there can be multi-faceted programs that are facilitated by several organizations or sponsoring agencies simultaneously. One agency can provide the facilities and logistical support while another provides the coordinators to run different phases of the program, while yet another facilitates the mentorship aspect, etc. This holistic approach is the direction in which all human services in Belize should be heading in providing multiple services to the whole person.
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