The Children’s Village President and CEO Dr. Jeremy Kohomban testified before the NYC Council’s Committee on Juvenile Justice on September 21. Citing research and frontline experience, his testimony highlighted the critical need for family engagement to the long-term success of youth involved with the justice system. Dr. Kohomban concluded with three specific recommendations. More Info
CV’s Street Outreach Program started in 1998 as a way to reach the thousands of alienated youth who spend all or most of their nights on the streets of the county’s poorest urban centers. These kids, who are often victimized and sexually exploited, do not typically seek help and thus are missed by most programs designed to help youth. Street Outreach counselors work the front lines in their efforts to target the county’s large population of runaway and homeless youth to move them off the streets and point them in a more positive direction. Program staff makes contact with thousands of street-involved youth each year, connecting them to a network of services operated by The Children’s Village or the many community partners we work with in Westchester and Rockland Counties.
The Street Outreach Program is premised on the belief that youth can make positive changes in their lives if presented with reasonable alternatives to street life. Services are offered on the youth’s home turf in a manner that encourages trust and acceptance and delivered by staff who can relate to youth in a culturally and age-appropriate way. A significant goal of the program is helping youth to identify positive alternatives and make active, healthy choices for themselves. Street outreach specialists teach youth how to participate in their own planning and goal setting.
The Street Outreach Program is centrally headquartered in Valhalla, NY, operating out of the Sanctuary teen runaway shelter. Outreach efforts are concentrated in the troubled urban areas of Yonkers, Mount Vernon, Spring Valley, New Rochelle, Peekskill, Haverstraw, White Plains, Nyack, Ossining, and Mt. Kisco. The team encounters teens who are exposed to violence, drug abuse, sexual abuse, sexually transmitted diseases, and hunger.
To forge relationships with these troubled youth, the StreetWise team establishes a consistent, familiar presence in the urban areas it visits, sending youth specialists out into the streets to interact with youth. Counselors invite youth on board the mobile StreetWise van for a break from the streets, an invitation which can be especially welcome in the dead of winter. Once engaged in conversation, they assess the youths’ conditions and living situations and initiate give-and-take about risky behaviors. The initial work involves establishing trust, respecting youths’ privacy, and being non-judgmental in conversations. As the relationships develop, staff concentrates on working with youth around specific issues. Staff provides counseling, information, community referrals, group discussions, condoms, and HIV testing/counseling. For youth who are hungry, staff provides pre-packaged self-heating meals and snacks. Youth can take the meals with them, or eat them on the van.
Protects Youth from Sexual Exploitation
Sexual exploitation and sexual abuse are among the most common threats faced by young people who leave home to hang out or live on the street. Our program counsels both male and female teens on avoiding or escaping prostitution, providing education and medical referral services as needed. When the staff members encounter a young person who has suffered sexual exploitation or abuse, they refer the youth to Victims Assistance Services, a Westchester-based agency which provides free comprehensive clinical services and support to crime victims, support groups for sex abuse victims, and a 24-hour rape crisis hotline.
Certain staff are trained and certified in offering HIV testing using OraSure test kits. Test results are provided with complete confidentiality, and the staff is trained to counsel and guide youth. When youth turn out to be HIV positive, we counsel them and link them to community health services.
StreetWise’s goals are to:
- Support youth in finishing school and gaining job skills
- Teach youth to avoid dependency on social services
- Assist youth who have been victimized by physical and sexual abuse
- Encourage youth to return home or find alternative safe places to live
- Educate and counsel youth to encourage them to avoid drugs, alcohol, smoking, and unsafe sex
- Help teens to avoid sexual exploitation and prostitution
- Connect youth to services offered by Westchester Youth Services.