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Youth violence is the focus of Family Impact Seminar (Released: 12/6/96)

by Luis Mocete, Office of University Communications.

STORRS, Conn. -- Concern is growing in Connecticut and across the country that youth violence is getting out of hand, according to Steven Wisensale, associate professor of public policy in the School of Family Studies at the University of Connecticut.

That issue is the topic of the Family Impact Seminar at 9 a.m. Dec. 19 in the Legislative Office Building in Hartford.

"During the past few years, juvenile crime has gone up," says Wisensale, who will moderate a panel and present a paper dealing with youth violence. "In many cases, children are coming from very difficult situations. They grow up in poverty, and the family is not the strong supportive unit it once was. Consequently some of them devote a lot of energy to the wrong things."

According to Wisensale's paper, Youth Violence: The Role of Families, Schools and Communities, gun homicides nationally among children and youth rose 196 percent between 1983 and 1993 because of the accessibility of weapons.

The purpose of the seminar is to bring together policy makers, educators, community leaders, parents and young people to discuss the opportunities and barriers that exist when it comes to addressing youth violence, says Howard Rifkin, director of the Institute of Public Service at UConn.

Originating in Europe in the 1960s, Family Impact Seminars were introduced in the United States in the 1970s.

This year's seminar has two parts. In the morning, Deborah Prothrow-Stith, assistant dean of the Harvard School of Public Health and the author of Deadly Consequences: How Violence Is Destroying Our Teenage Population, will discuss how to reduce youth violence.

"I think the way we correct this, and Prothrow-Stith will talk about it, is through prevention," Wisensale says. "I am not a strong believer that punishment is going to make that big of a difference. I think punishment is a quick solution for many politicians and it sounds good to the voters. We have to think of a long-term plan in which we deal with the whole issue of violence in our society, and that gets to dealing with kids at a very young age."

The afternoon session features a roundtable discussion on youth violence in Connecticut.

"Through a series of questions and scenarios we will, hopefully, get participants to see opportunities for policy initiatives or changes that might be undertaken during the next session of the legislature," Rifkin says.

The seminar is sponsored by the schools of family studies, social work, education and the Institute of Public Service. Funding for the seminar has been provided by the William Caspar Graustein Memorial Foundation in New Haven.