Written by Marilyn L. Roseboro, M.U.A. and Frank T. Scruggs, M.A.
At-risk children and youth often adopt street-corner values and beliefs, which foster the acceptance of violence and hostility as a way of life. Faced with limited resources and community services, at-risk children and youth are prone to engage in aggressive behavior. This dilemma frequently results in these young people turning to socially unacceptable activities such as gangs, bullying, vandalism, and substance abuse.
In order for at-risk children and youth to overcome socially unacceptable activities (as well as parental neglect and influence from other adults holding street-corner values), they must be equipped with problem-solving skills that are applicable to and effective in their own milieu. These youths live in environments where they have special needs for strong support and reinforcement to avoid the usual pitfalls. Providing programs that address social issues and life skills in addition to the daily school routine affords young people other alternatives, thus giving them a window of opportunity unattainable from other sources. It is, therefore, imperative that conflict analysis and resolution programs designed specifically for at-risk children be implemented and practiced by parents, teachers, mentors, childcare specialists, and other interested adults to assist these youths in making the transition from childhood to productive adulthood.
One approach is to design a conflict system that accounts for cross-cultural conflict and includes a culturally appropriate, cost effective communication model to settle disputes. This leads to creating a working cross-cultural dispute resolution model that can be applied in group homes, schools, and agencies as well as by parent groups with the similar dynamic of at-risk children and youth. An effective dispute resolution program for at-risk children requires three major components: 1) Student/youth involvement, 2) Commitment of a concerned parent/adult, and 3) A forum that is conducive to program presentation.
The ultimate goal of a solid dispute resolution program dealing with at-risk children is to gradually introduce them to positive life skills through a series of workshops, activities, and retreats that focus on self-awareness, conflict resolution/management, mediation, and moral and social responsibility as key components.
The researchers conducted their inquiries and program development at two inner city sites: one, a juvenile facility in Chicago, IL, and the other, an after-school program in a public housing community in Winston-Salem, NC. Research methods included participant-observation, interviews, focus groups, and questionnaires/assessment instruments, along with substantial reviews of relevant literature. Initial efforts to implement programs based on traditional methods on conflict resolution yielded to the development of programs designed to address the specific needs engendered by the environments in which the young people live.