Seattle Youth Violence Prevention Initiative – Risk Assessment Tool Validation

Principal Investigator: 
Sarah Cusworth Walker, Ph.D.
Project Period: 
Phase One: 1/01/2013-12/31/2013, Phase Two: 1/01/2014-12/31/2014
PBHJP Project Faculty and Staff: 
Asia
Bishop
Research Analyst
Sarah Cusworth
Walker
Research Assistant Professor
Project Summary: 

While Seattle has experienced some of the lowest overall crime rates in the past decade, the number of juvenile violent crime incidents has remained constant.  The Seattle Youth Violence Prevention Initiative (SYVPI) was initiated as an attempt to identify and help our at-risk youth. Specifically, the Initiative invests $3.8 million annually to:

• Help youth with repeat offenses re-enter society from state and county detention programs

• Provide alternatives for youth who are arrested for crimes, but released because they do not meet the admission criteria for county detention

• Help middle-school truants and students at risk of suspension remain in school

• Prevent victims of violence and their friends and relatives from continuing the r cycle of violence

The Initiative operates on a case manager (CM) model in which CMs, who are recruited from neighborhood outreach centers, handle a caseload of youth who are referred to the program through a number of sources: community centers, police, school, court, or self-referral.  The risk assessment tool currently used by SYVPI staff was developed in partnership with University of Washington researchers to identify risk and protective factors related to youth violence and offending.  The tool was developed through the use of well-established research on the etiology of youth violence, and incorporates items that capture a range of risk and protective indicators identified throughout the literature. These include individual characteristics and predispositions to antisocial behavior (e.g., behaviors, attitudes), as well as aspects of the youth’s home, school, and social environments. The tool attends to youths’ histories of crime and substance use, their affiliations with gangs, exposure to violence, and mental health. Items related to youths’ academic achievement, truancy, and record of suspensions and expulsions are also included to help surface problems within the school setting that are themselves predictive of delinquency. While the tool is a violence prediction instrument, it is also used for case management and service provision and holds considerable promise for bolstering the assessment processes of SYVPI and for increasing capacity within the Initiative for formative and summative evaluations.

The University of Washington currently holds a contract with the City of Seattle to validate the effectiveness of the SYVPI Risk Assessment tool.  The validation process will proceed in two phases: First, the items and scales will be examined for relatedness, whether items are effective in distinguishing needs, and whether items are measuring the intended domains. The second phase will include a predictive validity analysis, in which the effectiveness of the tool in correctly distinguishing youth at risk for violence based on police arrests and court adjudications will be examined.

Public Health Relevance: 

The risk assessment validation process will improve the tool currently being used to refer youth to community services.  As such, it has the potential to create better matches between youth needs and interventions, ultimately leading to improved outcomes and decreased costs to the community.

Juvenile Justice