Why Black Teens Join Gangs

dexter_web_wborderA new study led by Dexter R. Voison, a professor in the School of Social Service Administration at the University of Chicago, identifies factors that lead to gang membership by young African American females. The study also finds that African American girls who are involved in gangs are at serious risk of substance abuse and other health risks.

The data showed that low self-esteem, emotional problems, trauma history, low parental monitoring, friends who engage in risky behavior (e.g., skipping school, selling drugs, having sex), housing instability, and poor neighborhood quality all contributed to a higher likelihood of these girls being involved in a gang. Those girls who did join a gang were more likely to be involved in substance abuse, have casual sexual partners, and not test for HIV infection.

“Adolescents who have strained relationships with positive family and community members and have displaced housing may find a sense of belonging with gangs,” Professor Voisin said. “It may be that the gangs satisfy the need for social connections and survival for these teens. At the same time, there are certain behaviors and norms within some gangs that are associated with increased social and health risk factors for their members.”

Professor Voison recommends that “child welfare and other youth service providers should target anti-gang interventions for African American females who report low self-esteem, emotional regulation problems, have housing instability and poor relationships with their parents.”

Professor Voisin received a bachelor’s degree from St. Andrews University in Laurinburg, North Carolina. He holds a master of social work degree from the University of Michigan and a Ph.D. from the Columbia University School of Social Work.

The study, “Correlates of Gang Involvement and Health-Related Factors Among African American Females With a Detention History,” was published in the journal Child Youth and Services Review. It may be accessed here.

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