The University of Chicago

School of Social Service Administration Magazine

Youth Violence Expert Gorman-Smith Named to Gidwitz Chair Scholar's work emphasizes the study of prevention

Research on programs aimed at reducing youth violence shows that there is reason for hope, says Deborah Gorman-Smith, a leading expert in the field, who has been named the Emily Klein Gidwitz Professor at SSA.

Deborah Gorman-Smith

"Twenty years ago the issue of youth violence was framed as a public safety problem and addressed primarily within the criminal justice system. There was no discussion of prevention and not a single program had been shown to have an effect on preventing or reducing risk for youth violence," she explains. Based in research, the conversation has shifted from a sole focus on criminalization to prevention. There is now a growing list of programs that have been rigorously evaluated through randomized controlled trials that have been shown to prevent or significantly reduce risk for violence and promote healthy outcomes for children, youth, and families.

"There is no single factor that leads youth into violence," she says. The problem is more complicated, and there are many factors working together. Communities need a comprehensive and coordinated set of programs to address the problem of youth violence; programs that focus on children and families at different developmental ages and with youth at varying levels of associated risk and involvement. "We know early intervention can reduce risk, but we also know that it's never too late to do something," says Gorman-Smith, who approaches her work from a public health perspective.

She is the director of the Center for Youth Violence Prevention. The center, housed at SSA, studies the underlying causes of youth violence through evidence-based, collaborative interventions that focus on families and communities, linking them with schools, the justice system, social service agencies, and policy makers.

Gorman-Smith received her PhD in clinical-developmental psychology at the University of Illinois at Chicago where she was a faculty member before she joined the SSA faculty in 2012.

— William Harms