1. Mobilizing Communities to Adopt Comprehensive and Multidisciplinary Delinquency Prevention Approaches

The multi-faceted needs of children and families are addressed by a myriad of service systems in our communities, including education, health, mental health, social services, juvenile justice, and law enforcement, among others. Too often the delivery of these services is fragmented in nature. As concluded by OJJDP's Study Group on Serious and Violent Offenders, this fragmentation of community-based services for at-risk youth has resulted in a lack of public accountability for juvenile offenders which, in turn, has contributed to serious and violent juvenile crime (Loeber & Farrington, 1998). When brought together, however, the various public systems, along with community grass-roots organizations, the business community, and the religious community, can combine forces toward a common goal, reduce duplication of efforts, fill gaps in services, and create synergistic effects that promote healthier and safer communities.

The Community Prevention Grants Program promotes community-wide, collaborative efforts through its requirement for a Prevention Policy Board (PPB) made up of representatives from different community systems, youth, and parents. As discussed in Chapter I, the initial Title V training session offered to potential applicants begins the process of establishing a broad base of support by introducing prevention and community mobilization concepts to the communities' key leaders, such as the mayor, city council members, school superintendents, police chiefs, judges, and business leaders as well as the unofficial "movers and shakers" that make things happen.

Across the country, police officers, family court judges, and probation officers are sitting down at the same table with teachers, social workers, clergy, recreation specialists, child advocates, parents and youth to discuss the needs of youth and families and develop and implement plans for addressing these needs. In some cases, a Prevention Policy Board meeting represents the first time these various groups have worked together to find common ground and collaborative solutions to community problems. In others, the PPB is an outgrowth of a pre-existing community network, tailored as necessary to meet the requirements of the Title V Community Prevention Grants Program. Communities with pre-existing planning boards or coalitions, not surprisingly, appear to have a "head start" and are often more successful in mobilizing their resources to apply for the Community Prevention Grant.

"When I first met with the prevention team I said, 'whether or not we get this grant, it's time for this community to start looking at how we can keep these kids from getting into trouble' ... In that regard, this was a great process."

-- Title V Program Director, South Carolina

As appealing as community mobilization and collaboration are, communities nonetheless commonly report three key challenges to the community mobilization process:

  • Overcoming turf issues to create a common mission.

  • Obtaining a commitment from community representatives.

  • Optimizing the role of the unit of general local government.

The sections that follow discuss these challenges and provide examples of how communities have overcome them.

1.1 Overcoming Turf Issues to Create a Common Mission

One of the greatest challenges in forming and sustaining productive PPBs is overcoming turf issues. Turf issues and "territorial concerns" are frequently attributable, in part, to the fact that the individuals, organizations, and agencies involved are not accustomed to working together. In some cases, community representatives are fearful that information shared during the data collection and assessment processes might reveal weaknesses or gaps in services, which could potentially be used against them (e.g., through loss of funding). Some participants fear that the process of joint planning and resource sharing is a "zero-sum game," if one wins, the other necessarily loses. Individual perspectives -- philosophical and political -- as well as traditional power structures also can get in the way. In general, however, as participants grow more comfortable working together on the PPB, turf issues dissipate, and they recognize that the cumulative effects of collaboration are greater than the sum of the parts.

Grantees stress the importance of putting individual identities aside for the sake of the group and the community's well-being. A PPB in Hawaii facilitated the process of setting aside individual agendas and traditional power structures by asking all PPB members, including the mayor's youth program coordinator, grass-roots leaders, elders, and teens, to write their titles on a crown and then throw the crowns into the center of the table. From that moment forward, each member had an equal voice in developing solutions to address community risk factors. Through multiple conversations over time, community members developed a shared ownership of the community's substance abuse problems. Along with shared accountability for the problems, there also emerged a shared sense of credit for the progress achieved in bringing resources together to build greater community attachment, to reverse community norms favoring drugs, and to decrease drug use among teens and their families.

"It needs to be conceived of as our program and not my program."

-- State Advisory Group Member, Michigan

To help community members overcome the sense of competition for resources to implement a specific program, Colorado promotes the development of policy boards rather than program boards. These policy boards are tasked first with identifying shared community values (e.g., fostering healthy youth) and then coordinating local efforts and enhancing existing service delivery systems to support those shared values.

The success of a collaborative process often centers on building a common sense of purpose among different community sectors that have focused in their past more often on their differences rather than on their commonalities. In Iowa, for example, PPB members recognized that reducing truancy could benefit the school system (by increasing attendance rates and supporting educational achievement goals), the court system (by reducing the number of trouble-making truants on the dockets), and the department of human services (by reducing the number of truants receiving social services). These three agencies (schools, courts, and human services) collaborated to sustain funding for programs to keep youth in school. Over time, as community groups identify a common purpose, the various members are better able to set aside individual agendas to fit the pieces of their ongoing activities together toward a common mission.

"We didn't care if we were given the money or not...the coalition would go ahead because we had a common plan."

-- Police Officer, Idaho

Several States, acknowledging that mobilizing the community and bringing together multidisciplinary groups can be hard work, have offered extra support to board members and program planners. Colorado, for example, provides extensive "hands-on" technical assistance (TA) in such areas as building community, understanding the roles and responsibilities of the board, identifying a mission, and facilitating effective meetings. Pennsylvania helps communities learn from each other's experiences by convening a popular quarterly grantee "user's group." During the group meetings, community members participate in educational workshops to build their skills in areas such as community mobilization or evaluation, and also spend time sharing ideas and lessons learned.

1.2 Obtaining a Commitment from Community Representatives

Some communities struggle to meet the Title V requirement for a PPB with 15 to 21 members. This struggle is particularly evident in rural and small towns. Representatives from a small, rural community explained, for example, that if their one police officer attends a training session or PPB meeting, there is no one available to cover his or her duties. Other communities have been able to obtain commitments during the early stages of the program but have had trouble sustaining membership over time.

In addition, with growing Federal and private foundation emphasis on multidisciplinary collaborative efforts, communities are finding it difficult to form new boards for every grant for which they apply. Already over-extended key community members are often pressed to serve on yet another community board. Several States, including Virginia and Arizona, help communities overcome this obstacle by encouraging them to adapt existing multi-disciplinary teams for the Community Prevention Grants Program rather than create a new board for this purpose. Combining boards for multiple programs reduces the likelihood of duplication of efforts and also increases community capacity for better coordination of funding streams.

1.3 Optimizing the Role of the Unit of General Local Government

The Title V Program Guidelines require that State agencies award subgrants to units of general local government. Approximately half of the Community Prevention Grants Program grantees have been awarded to cities and towns, nearly half to counties, and one percent to tribes. Some States and communities find the requirement to fund a unit of general local government an extra "hoop" to go through, which adds another layer of paperwork and level of coordination. They would prefer that funding be provided directly to the service providers who traditionally have been the grant recipients and the "doers" in the communities. In many cases, the unit of general local government is perceived simply as a "pass through agent," adding a bureaucratic layer to the grant's administration.

Communities that have been successful in the mobilization process, however, view the unit of general local government not simply as the entity that "cuts the checks" but rather as a valuable player at the table. They recognize several advantages to optimizing the role of the unit of general local government:

  • The collaborative process calls for representatives of a community -- including the unit of general local government and its key agencies -- to come together to identify and tackle the adverse risk factors that threaten the well-being of children and families in the community.

  • Leaders of the unit of general local government -- the city mayor or county commissioner, for example -- are often in the best position to bring other key leaders, especially those who may not have been involved in prevention efforts in the past, to the table.

  • It helps to discourage "program first" thinking. Traditionally, private service providers identify the services they want to offer and then seek funding sources. The Community Prevention Grants Program model, on the other hand, promotes "assessment first" and then coordinated, strategic program planning based on identified needs/gaps in services in the community.

  • The unit of general local government frequently can provide continuation funding from its annual budget when the grant period ends.

Finally, the unit of general local government and its key agencies, along with the other key community sectors, working together can increase shared responsibility and accountability for their programs for youth.

"The result in 3 years has been to bring new members of the community into the problem-solving group, thus introducing other perspectives concerning how to solve these nagging problems and to prevent new ones."

-- PPB Member, Nebraska

Previous Contents Next

1998 Report to Congress: Title V Incentive Grants for Local Delinquency Prevention Programs OJJDP Report