Few prevention approaches have been evaluated as effectively reducing the number of youth who become involved with gangs. Most of these approaches have been limited to targeting only isolated domains of risk and narrow definitions of gang membership. However, the etiology of gang involvement, which includes trajectories of risk from multiple socialization domains and varied levels of association, suggests that prevention approaches that more broadly address risk through widespread implementation and the targeting of multi-dimensional risk factors are more likely to be effective (Howell, 2010). Communities That Care is a universal, community-based prevention system that targets locally-determined priority risk and protective factors across multiple domains with tested and effective preventive interventions. Prior research has found that CTC is effective in reducing problematic youth outcomes including delinquency, violence, and substance use. Although the prevention system did not originally include gang involvement as a primary targeted outcome, its targeting of related risk and protective factors suggests it may also reduce the number of youth who associate with or join gangs. The purpose of this study was to examine whether CTC reduced youth gang involvement in a community-randomized trial.
Methods: Data came from a longitudinal panel of youth (N=4407) assessed annually between grades 5 and 12 as part of the Community Youth Development Study, a 24 community randomized trial of the CTC prevention system. Latent Profile Analyses that included measures of youth gang involvement across Grades 7 to 12 identified three classes of gang-involved youth: non-affiliates, gang associates, and gang members. Multinomial regression models accounting for the nesting of youth in communities and communities in matched pairs then tested the extent to which CTC impacted the likelihood of respondents being gang associated or gang members.
Results: Results indicate that CTC significantly reduced the odds of gang association (Adjusted Odds Ratio = 0.69, p<.05), but not gang membership, after adjusting for community-level and individual-level baseline and demographic characteristics.
Conclusions: Given the scarcity of effective gang prevention programming, this study provides promising evidence that universal prevention approaches like CTC that are focused on broad risk reduction and positive youth development can reduce the likelihood that youth will become associated with gangs. The results of this study also highlight the importance of identifying broader categories of gang involvement in evaluative studies.