CAMBRIDGE, MA
Mayor Francis H. Duehay

SAFETY CORPS

1. Briefly describe the structure of your program.

Safety Corps is a basic safety education program in which teens develop and implement tested strategies for teaching young children about street and home safety. The program was piloted by the Community & Youth Division in 1997-98 (hereafter Safety Corps I), to very positive reviews from children, parents and the professionals who serve them. A modified version of the program will be offered in Spring, 1999 (Safety Corps II). This description is based largely on our experience with Safety Corps I.

Through age-appropriate skits, games, lecture, one-on-one instruction and take-home materials, the safety skills taught to children included: what to do in a fire; what to do when lost; who is a stranger and how to be safe from abduction; how to identify and communicate with trusted safety officials, such as police and fire officers; and how and when to call 911. Materials distributed at the sessions aided teachers and parents in practicing these skills in class and at home, and encouraged parents to share the knowledge with other children at home.

Safety Corps I also had teen girl development goals. The Corps, eight 11 - 14 year old female youth center members, developed the teaching tools, organized the sessions and planned the evaluation. Having responsibility for most aspects of the project, Corps felt more at ease with the material, and highly committed to the program. During the 1997 pilot, the Corps did an excellent job of crafting the activities. We also found that young children received the information very well from the teens, who were perceived to be more like ‘kids’ than would adult staff.

Corps members had lots of adult guidance, including a dedicated staff person, curriculum input and encouragement from Police and Fire officers, and a presentation coach to help with public speaking skills and bolster confidence. The group was constantly exposed to adult women in the community who lauded their efforts and modeled a variety of career and community involvement roles available to the girls.

Through journals and other structured reflection activities, Corps members reflected on the sense of power and importance that came from contributing to the community of which they are a part. The group also explored their own sense of personal safety and their role – positive, neutral or negative – in the violence that effects the City.

Safety Corps lasted five months during which all program activities took place, from development and implementation to evaluation. Meeting two or three days per week, the group educated 20 groups of children in ready-made audiences – the city’s Community Schools and Child Care programs welcomed our service. The Corps also made presentations at large community events, such as public Halloween parties throughout the City. Safety Corps educated as many as 500 children with this invaluable information

The project concluded with a community celebration of the important contribution made by the teens. Corps members spoke eloquently about their Safety Corps experiences as teachers and their growing understanding of power, and concerns facing them as young women.

The involvement of Police officers and other safety professionals was crucial to the program. We expected Corps members and their adult staff to meet with police, fire and emergency services experts to review lesson plans for accuracy. Corps members viewed themselves as ‘ambassadors’ for the Police and others who need to get their information out to families. Thus, regular contact among officers and Corps members was very important, and strengthened the connection between Corps members and the Police.

Corps members benefitted from the program in providing the opportunity to get involved with their own community. Also, their relationships with the Police and other institutions were strengthened. Police will benefit through Safety Corps in that a proven preventive service, otherwise absent in the City, was delivered to two hundred Cambridge households, and officers were able to develop relationships with teen leaders. The program was tested, and proved effective. Most of all, more than 500 young children were educated in keeping themselves safe, benefitting the entire community.

2. When was the program created and why?

Safety Corps I was created in 1997, in response to a request for community service learning proposals offered by a state agency. Human Services Department staff conducted several meetings with teen youth center members, to determine what kinds of activities would motivate them to engage in community service. These young people expressed a strong interest in teaching younger children, and a great concern for the safety of younger siblings and neighbors.

In the year between Safety Corps I and II, a number of disturbingly violent incidents occurred in our city, including the abduction, rape and murder of a young boy. During the wrenching healing process we undertook as a community, many residents demanded safety education for our children. When the Police Department was able to offer community-oriented block grant funding, through the Bureau of Justice Assistance, they approached the human services department about reviving the project. Safety Corps II will be implemented in Spring, 1999. The new group will be coed. The girls’ empowerment aspect of the program will be diminished in favor of other youth development themes. This change in focus demonstrates the flexibility of the model. Safety Corps will remain a teen-run program.

3. How do you measure the program’s effectiveness?

A number of methods were devised by Corps members and staff to measure the effectiveness of the work. Several weeks after each Safety Corps presentation, teachers of the hosting child care centers reviewed and evaluated targeted skills with their 5 to 9-year olds. Teachers also sent home stamped post cards, requesting parents to test their children – and their siblings. The at-home ‘tests’ served two purposes: to check for skill retention a few weeks after instruction; and to gently remind parents that they should be reviewing this information with their own children.

In the view of parents and teachers, nearly two-thirds of the 5- to 9-year olds retained most of the safety skills imparted by Safety Corps, at least four weeks after participating. We also learned that parents and participating children ‘shared’ their new skills and information with siblings, creating an important secondary benefit for families.

4. How is the program financed?

The original Safety Corps was funded through a grant from the AmeriCorps-based Massachusetts & National Community Service Commission, Learn and Serve Program.

Safety Corps II will be funded through a Local Law Enforcement Block Grant from the U. S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Assistance, administered by the Cambridge Police Department.

Each iteration of the program costs about $10,000, including safety-related take-home materials (stickers, coloring books, etc.), adult staffing and Corps member stipends. More detailed budget information is available.

5. How is the community involved in the program? How has the community responded to the program?

Community involvement is crucial in making Safety Corps effective. To meet the program’s safety education goals, teen Corps members constantly interact with Police, Fire and other emergency officers. The two projects will reach hundreds of children, and parents of those children will be involved in the program directly. Parents receive safety materials and information about practicing safety skills with all of their children at home. Many of these parents are also asked to respond to a follow-up survey to ensure the efficacy of the program. Friends, relatives, neighbors and City officials are invited to the end-of-project event to celebrate the Corps members’ important contributions to their community.

This constant interaction between the teen Corps members and adult members of the community support the youth development goals of the project. When adults nurture, support and celebrate the work developed and conducted by teens, the Corps members are shown that they have vital contributions to make – and responsibilities to maintain – in their neighborhoods.

The community responded very positively to the first iteration of Safety Corps. The child care centers and schools which hosted Safety Corps presentations frequently asked for the Corps to return; participation of Corps members’ parents in the closing ceremony far exceeded the norm for such events; the Police Department actually requested that the Human Services Department apply for funding to bring the program back in 1999; and the adult staff and Corps members were frequently approached by parents of the young beneficiaries, to offer thanks and assistance.

6. What are the major lessons learned from the program?

The success of Safety Corps demonstrated or reinforced four important points:

  • Safety skills, as detailed as ‘scripts’ to use when calling 911, can be retained by children as young as five, when taught in an engaging, sensitive manner;
  • Community service can motivate teens to engage in their community, a youth development goal well demonstrated in preventing juvenile delinquency;
  • Collaboration between Police and human service providers can be highly effective if Police support is comprehensive, including cost-sharing, information-sharing and, particularly, the willing dedication of time by officers;
  • Parents and other adults are extremely receptive to safety education, a resource lacking in many communities. Parents feel comfortable teaching Safety skills when supporting information and materials are provided.

7. Contact person:

We are very proud of the important work of our teen Safety Corps. For more information please contact:

Andrew Spooner

Youth Program Developer

Cambridge Department of Human Service Programs

51 Inman Street

Cambridge, MA 02139

Phone: 617-349-6223

Fax: 617-349-6248

e-mail aspooner@ci.cambridge.ma.us

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