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Health Care Professionals Response to Gang Violence

By: SafeYouth

Health care professionals can play a key role in gang violence prevention by educating parents, screening adolescents for gang involvement and making appropriate referrals, developing protocols for treating injured gang members, and participating in larger community efforts to combat gang violence.

Health care professionals can play an important role in educating parents about signs of gang involvement in children, as well as constructive ways to respond.

Health care professionals should be aware of the types of gang activity occurring in their communities, and adolescent screening should take place in the context of understanding the local gang patterns. Screening should focus on high-risk behaviors such as drug and alcohol use, access to weapons, self-esteem issues, school delinquency and having a sibling involved in a gang.

Screening questions might include:

o Do you feel safe in your neighborhood/school?

o What would you do if you needed protection?

o Do you have access to a weapon?

o What is the significance of your tattoo/your style of clothing?

o Do you have friends or siblings who are involved in a gang?[1]

Health care professionals need to be aware of appropriate referral sources for youth at risk and their families. Initiating counseling and support services for at-risk children and adolescents is important, although counseling alone is unlikely to be beneficial without concurrent changes in the home and socioeconomic environments.[2]

Hospital-based counseling and prevention programs should be established in medical facilities that often provide services to gang violence victims. These programs should ensure that trained staff and volunteers can: provide counseling to victims; interact with gang members who may accompany victims into the hospital to help deter additional violence; and work with surviving victims to establish a plan for their safety and reentry into the community without gang ties. In addition, a protocol that includes appropriate security and safety procedures should be developed to assist hospital personnel in responding to incidents of gang violence.[3]

Health care professionals can also work with school officials, law enforcement, social services, community organizations and the local health department to develop and implement community initiatives to combat youth violence, and gang violence in particular.

  1. Hixon, A.L. (1999). Preventing street gang violence. American Family Physician 59(8).
  2. Hixon, A.L. (1999). Preventing street gang violence. American Family Physician 59(8).
  3. Office of Victims of Crime (1996). Victims of Gang Violence: A New Frontier in Victim Services (1996) U.S. Department of Justice.