By Vaughn Bryant
In Chicago, 764 people were murdered in 2016, a 58 percent increase over 2015. That number would have been even greater without the invaluable work of street outreach workers. In cities such as Los Angeles, Boston and Chicago, street outreach workers have been indispensable in diffusing violent situations, helping to prevent such situations from escalating, and also quelling demands for retaliation.
Their skill set is a special one. Seasoned workers are consummate mediators, able to build trusted personal and group relationships with perpetrators and victims of violence, as well as their family members, friends and the broader community. Simultaneously they must cultivate the trust of law enforcement, respecting their authority and not overstepping bounds.
Street outreach work has not always been valued. Misunderstandings about its role and how it should function have sometimes caused friction with police and worked against the full effectiveness of outreach. To help improve that dynamic, Chicago's Communities Partnering 4 Peace initiative has launched the Metropolitan Peace Academy.
Communities Partnering 4 Peace (CP4P), convened by Metropolitan Family Services, is a framework that provides a comprehensive, long-term approach to reducing violence and gang activity among the individuals and communities it serves. Its work is rooted in nonviolence, trauma-informed care, hyper-local collaboration and restorative justice practices.
CP4P has gathered eight of Chicago's most respected community-based organizations working in street outreach to work in nine of the city's most at-risk communities in order to 1) help reduce shootings and homicides, 2) create and reclaim safe community spaces, and 3) professionalize the field of community outreach.
As the focus of goal #3 Metropolitan Family Services is collaborating with its CP4P and other experts to develop and implement the Metropolitan Peace Academy (MPA). The goal of MPA is to professionalize and strengthen the fields of street outreach and community violence prevention. This will be accomplished by:
- Establishing core competencies, knowledge and skills required of outreach workers and violence prevention practitioners;
- Ensuring consistent standards in how outreach workers deliver services;
- Offering ongoing professional development of outreach workers to promote best practices; and
- Establishing a citywide network of outreach workers to ensure the highest probability of success in creating safer communities.
MPA will welcome its first cohort of 25 professionals on January 30, 2018.
The pilot curriculum, featuring 144 hours of study resulting in certification, will be launched in partnership with Northeastern University, and will include the topics below:
- Professionalism has a unique meaning and purpose in the field of street outreach. MPA will address the characteristics of professionalism, how to demonstrate it on the street and in the office.
- Street Outreach is important work that requires strengthening vulnerable communities. Role clarity is important for outreach workers to understand the scope of their work, boundaries with their clients, collaboration with case managers and professional understanding with law enforcement.
- Self-care creates a space for participants to explore their own trauma and establish their own routines for coping with past and present trauma.
- Communications will address techniques such as motivational interviewing, active listening, public speaking, managing media and precise messaging. It will also address protocols for communicating with families, community members and law enforcement.
- Gathering information addresses issues of confidentiality, conflict resolution and crisis response.
- Crisis protocols addresses how to operate in situations such as crime scenes, how to manage rumor control, and how to work with other organizations effectively.
Daily Operational Protocols
- Daily operational protocols addresses time management, accountability practices with supervisors, as well as routine operations like scheduling meetings, school dismissal time procedures etc.
Interactions with Law Enforcement
- Interaction with law enforcement addresses boundaries with outreach workers, coordinating responsibilities and legal liability issues.
- Client advocacy addresses the various types of clients street outreach workers may serve and how to advocate for them effectively.
A Day in the Life of an Outreach Worker
- A day in the life of an outreach worker addresses how to structure their workday, how to recruit clients, strategically canvassing the community and practical application of the knowledge gained in the training.
- MPA will work with a team of experienced street outreach professionals to design and deliver its curriculum. All professionals who facilitate classes will receive additional compensation for prep time and delivery.
To measure the Academy's impact, several measures will be implemented. They include tracking the number of staff and amount of training provided, as well as conducting skills transfer and training satisfaction surveys with trainees to assess the training's effectiveness and help identify improvements. In addition, a training observation tool will focus on fidelity to training content for coaching and training improvement over time. Lastly, trainers also will receive support to enhance methods for delivering content for maximum impact of staff knowledge and skills in practice.
MPA's short-term goals include finalizing its design and establishing infrastructure to operationalize by April 2018, offering one to two classes yearly that collectively will graduate up to 100 students yearly; and adding classes in non-violence, trauma-informed care, restorative justice practices and interaction with law enforcement.
Longer-term goals include offering courses to a wider variety of community organizations, expanding the curriculum to include youth programs, and providing non-violence training to professionals seeking continued development and City College students.
Ultimately, by helping to professionalize street outreach, the Metropolitan Peace Academy hopes to strengthen the impact of this much-needed work, and in the process help further safer communities throughout Chicago.