On Wednesday, Philadelphia city officials met with behavioral health experts and Philadelphia school district leaders in a desperate effort to improve the effects of gun violence on the city’s youth.
At a time where city functions were almost completely shut down in Philadelphia, the crime did not rest. In 2020, the homicide count surged to 499 with 2021 following a similar trend up to this point. According to a study by the Philadelphia public school system, 795 children across the city have been victims of gun violence within the city. Gun violence can have many effects on children in the city. The possible effects witnessing or experiencing violence for young people include: chronic physical health problems, mental illness, substance abuse in adulthood, and difficulties in school or work opportunities.
Beyond statistics, these violent moments are everlasting on the victims, families, and the community as a whole. Councilmember Kendra Brooks shared her emotional testimony on how impactful gun violence has been on her sons.
“My kids have buried more friends in their lifetime than I could ever understand.” Brooks said.
She criticized the data presented by Chief of Student Support Services Karyn Lynch. Lynch presented progress being made within school systems based on a combination of several methods such as: prevention and intervention liaisons, the STEP program, and behavioral health experts. Unfortunately, not all of these schools are getting the same services. Some schools may have a behavioral health expert in classrooms, while others may not. Additionally, Brooks stated these programs must be accessible to all age groups, opposed to their current high school model.
Councilmembers Kenyatta Johnson, Kendra Brooks, Helen Gym, and Isaiah Thomas loudly voiced that the current plans to combat the effects of gun violence on youth are not enough and asked Lynch what they could do to create change now instead of hoping for it to come within the next few years. All members of the meeting agreed that these organizations need to be accessible in more schools and relationships must be built within communities in order to gain trust with the youth.
Philadelphia city council, Philadelphia school district, and behavioral health organizations are still working on plans to expedite change within schools and communities.