Social Workers Are Central to Violence Prevention in New Mexico
By Dana Razzano, Internet Reporter

When the Metropolitan Criminal Justice Coordinating Council (MCJCC) in New Mexico wanted to implement a community-wide crime reduction strategy for juvenile offenders, they looked to the East Coast. Modeled after a number of highly successful Boston-based juvenile crime prevention programs, SAFE2000 was born.

The MCJCC's SAFE2000 policy initiative consists of four programs to improve the collaboration of programs for the high-risk youth of Bernalillo County. These programs include the integrated efforts of everyone from police officers, community leaders and local prosecutors, to school officials, parents and clergy members. SAFE2000 takes a proactive approach to youths at risk and provides social remedies as opposed to detention center sentences.

"Intervention and prevention" are the primary goals of the program, said Barri Roberts, Administrative Coordinator for the MCJCC. "This is a tool to help keep kids off the street. It is community policing at its best."

Focusing on Social Workers

The first initiative of the SAFE2000 program was Operation Night Light. The plan employs nighttime visits and surveillance of high-risk probationers' homes. Any youth considered violent and likely to be involved with firearm use may receive unannounced visits and are subject to strict enforcement of probationary terms to demonstrate the consequences of probation violation. 

Those involved in law enforcement "at some level are social workers," said Roberts. "They entered into the game to help society." 

Aside from Operation Night Light, the remaining three programs in SAFE2000 focus on incorporating social workers as a solution and management tool for youth violence prevention.

The Bernalillo County Detention Center Central Intake Initiative was designed to divert youths from the juvenile system. "If we can keep them out of the juvenile system there is a far greater chance of keeping them out of the adult system," said Roberts. Licensed Clinical Social Workers work in four different substations in the county to make sure the offenders are diverted from the detention center and receive treatment in community programs that adequately address their needs. 

Another aspect of SAFE2000 includes the New Mexico Conference of Churches (NMCC) Outreach Ministers. Bernalillo County hired two part-time ministers to work intimately with social workers, lending assistance if a family may be responsive to spiritual advising. The NMCC is all encompassing of religious beliefs and differences. The Outreach Ministers have a mentorship program in development, as well as an after-school program to keep youth busy and off the streets.

In SAFE2000's Social Workers Helping Cops to Help Kids Program, social workers become the center staple for juvenile youth prevention. Coordinated efforts between police and social workers reach at-risk youth before they turn to violence. "Line officers in their beats, practicing their jobs, know more about kids at risk than anybody," said Roberts, and once these kids are identified by the police, social workers can directly contact the youth and their families to see what services they may need.

"We never had the ability [for police] to say 'take these kids and work with them,'" said Roberts. "Social workers open the case, meet with the family and then refer services available that the family may never knew of."

The link between youth violence prevention and social workers "is one that the Boston folks really recognized and they put a lot of money into social services to keep kids out of trouble," she said.

Since social workers play such a large role in SAFE2000, a data based tool was designed for social workers to use to record information about the youth treated. Roberts said that the type and method of data collection played a part in designing the software. No one in the city or council has access to the information, assured Roberts, or could use the information to try to prosecute youth.

Though there is no readily available data, Roberts said they will have statistics in another year. This is a "living process, not a static one," she said. "Whatever programs are funded they need to have an evaluation tool put to it. Just because the stated goals at the outset of a program have been met doesn't mean it has had an impact on what you want it to do."

"I have every confidence that the data will indicate the level of success we have had," said Roberts.

Roberts' hope is that SAFE2000 will help prevent kids from coming in and out of the juvenile system. She is looking to start a social worker network to in order to gain a "true ability to see what is going on - whether the services throughout the system overlap or are parallel."


For more information on SAFE2000, visit: 

Barri Roberts
Administrative Coordinator
One Civic Plaza NM, 10th Floor
Albuquerque, NM 87102
159 Burgin Parkway | Quincy, MA 02169
617-471-4445 | Fax 617-770-3339