Youths in Crisis

By Pomeroy, Elizabeth C.; Browning, Polly | Social Work, July 2010 | Go to article overview

Youths in Crisis


Pomeroy, Elizabeth C., Browning, Polly, Social Work


In the past few decades, there has been a silent crisis for youths exploding in both the United States and around the globe. Although children have traditionally been our hope for the future, we are seeing the gradual diminishment, and in some cases destruction, of institutions and organizations that care for our children. According to Giroux (2003), "A seismic change has taken place in which youth are now being framed as a generation of shiftless, riff-raff, thugs, or potential terrorists and hence, a threat to public life" (p. 175). Rather than helping youths navigate the turbulence they experience growing up in the current social order, society quickly labels young people as undesirable troublemakers and perceives them as disposable commodities. In an increasingly neoliberal, market-driven, global economy, children are viewed as unproductive, infantile, and dependent. However, when youths threaten the adult world, they are punished as adults with sentences commensurate with the adult criminal justice system. By denying their value to society, it is possible to negate their humanity and relegate them to a minor footnote in terms of social priorities.

From a global perspective, there are some impressive examples of children in crisis. It is estimated that approximately 1 billion children are currently living in poverty and lack the basic necessities of life to develop and survive. One in three children has inadequate shelter, one in five has no access to safe drinking water, and one in seven has a total lack of basic health care services (UNICEF, 2004). More than 120 million children of primary age do not attend school or have access to an educational institution. In terms of violence and war, millions of children are ravaged and killed by armed conflict. In Iraq, for example, since 1991, over 500,000 children have died as the indirect result of war due to malnutrition and treatable diseases. Finally, the 2009 UNAIDS report pointed to HIV/AIDS as one of the leading causes of death among children worldwide. According to this report ending in 2008, over 2.1 million children are currently living with AIDS, and 14 million children in Africa have been orphaned due to HIV/AIDS (UNICEF, 2004).

In the United States, in addition to poverty, war, and health care concerns, other serious issues that affect children that cannot be disavowed include violence, drug and alcohol abuse, suicide, foster care, and traumatic events.

Violence among youths is multifaceted. Homicide is the second leading cause of death for young people ages 10 to 24 years. Violent cyclical behaviors are often fostered by young people's personal experiences. A youth may experience harmful, violent behaviors by being a witness, an offender, or a victim of a violent act. Often, these experiences overlap and reoccur with more frequency than we would like to believe. Violent incidents can vary in intensity and degree, from bullying through psychological or physical harm to the death of a young person. According to the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2006, reports indicate that on average 16 young people per day were murdered. Of these homicide victims, 87 percent were male. In 2007, 1,350 juvenile offenders were arrested for murder, 3,580 for forcible rape, and 57,650 for aggravated assaults (Puzzanchera, 2009). These numbers are daunting. It can be easy to prejudge the youths who are committing heinous crimes. However, it is not only important to be aware of the volume of serious crimes by juveniles, but also to consider what factors may have led to these incidents. From 1992 to 1999, juveniles charged with school-associated homicides were "nine times as likely as victims" to have exhibited suicidal behavior prior to committing the murder, "being more than twice as likely as victims to have been bullied by their peers" (Anderson et al., 2001, p. 2695). Repeated exposure to unpredictable violence interferes with the development of adolescents' coping skills. …

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