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Streetworkers, Youth Violence Prevention, and Peacemaking in Lowell, Massachusetts: Lessons and Voices from the Community


Background: Communities across the United States are using street outreach workers (SWs) to prevent violence. SW programs are generally recognized as a promising model, particularly in light of a 2008 evaluation that demonstrated positive impacts associated with one well-known program. The United Teen Equality Center (UTEC) includes an SW program.

Objectives: Through this paper we aim to (1) document the work of the UTEC SWs, (2) describe UTEC's approach to training SWs and managing the program, and (3) understand interviewees' perspectives (including UTEC managers, SWs and partners) on how the SWs impact youth violence in Lowell.

Methods: We designed a single-site observational study using qualitative methods to address our study aims. We collected data from in-person, semistructured interviews with the two UTEC SW program managers, the six SWs employed during the study period, and 17 representatives from partner agencies.

Results: UTEC SWs outreach to youth, respond to crises in the lives of youth as opportunity, work to facilitate access to resources for youth, and engage in intensive follow-up with youth when needed. These findings are consistent with UTEC's pyramid model of SW outreach. The program emphasizes peacemaking (not only preventing violence) and partnerships as priorities. SWs participate in structured training, receive a comprehensive benefits package, and have opportunities for professional development.

Conclusion: Several aspects of UTEC's program may be useful for other SW programs: Involve youth in hiring SWs, invest in SW training, incorporate peacemaking strategies into outreach, and partner with agencies that also serve youth.