AURORA, Colo. (KDVR) — A year after Christina Amparan accepted a role as the City of Aurora’s new Youth Violence Prevention Program Manager, she says the city has “progressed a lot, but not fast enough for what the community is expecting and for the need that we have.”

Last year, 58 juveniles were charged for their involvement in gun-related crimes in Aurora, with 38 kids experiencing injuries and two gun-related deaths, according to Aurora Police data provided to the Problem Solvers.

“It is, at times, overwhelming just because every week, it is one, two or three incidents happening,” Amparan said.

Amparan is working to fill open positions on her team — there are currently three — while developing a prevention and intervention strategy that coordinates community groups and aligns with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s public health approach.

The process has been difficult, she said.

“It requires a lot of organizational change. It requires us to maneuver around a lot of the politics that involve youth violence, and so, I have lost staff and, [we] are recruiting again,” she said.

Aurora’s youth violence prevention impact

Despite the challenges, she said the program is already making an impact on many young people and their families. Already this year, they’ve organized eight events with the help of community, school and faith leaders aimed at raising awareness about youth violence and connecting people to resources.

“That’s a tremendous increase in what was happening last year. Last year, we didn’t have any of this programming in place,” she said. “It has to be a collaborative response.”

She said groups like schools and churches are stepping up to become more aware of agencies and services in the community that may help steer youth in a positive direction.

“The work and the progress we have made is not just because of the internal team or the internal support, it’s also because of the external support,” she said, crediting the Department of Human Services and school resource officers as well.

For example, a resource officer recently referred six young people to Amparan’s program so she could connect them with services during the summer. Each kid, at some point, had taken a weapon, like a knife, a gun or a BB gun, to school.

Amparan described another success story about a 16-year-old who started having violent tendencies after that child’s brother was incarcerated for shooting two students at an Aurora high school.

He was really struggling, starting to follow the same path,” Amparan said. “He was getting involved in public fighting, carrying weapons, taking them to school.”

A school resource officer referred the child to Amparan, whose group has been working with the kid for the last four months, providing support, mentorship and guidance on how to navigate various government systems and connect with important resources.

“We’ve seen a tremendous shift in his behavior. He has a summer job. He’s going to school. Perfect attendance. He’s complying with probation,” she said. “There’s definitely been an overall behavioral shift within him both within the home and within his community, and his parents are very grateful for my outreach specialist.”

How to change violent behavior

“Violence is learned behavior, and so (youth) sometimes grow up knowing that that’s how conflict is resolved, and so, that’s part of what we do need to do is change that norm around violent behavior,” Amparan said.

How you change violent behavior starts with the community, she said.

It’s important to identify hot spots, gaps in services for youth and families and risk factors like prostitution and gang activity.

While removing risk factors, she said the community must also implement protective factors, like community events, while increasing access to services in targeted neighborhoods.

“If we do have a parent that is starting to see their youth starting to get involved in violent crime, gang involvement…we can get them connected to services to immediately intervene and prevent them from reaching a higher level of involvement,” she said.

She said people should also report when they see gang activity or hear gunfire, so the city can collect data to better strategize how to address problem areas.

What community can do to help

“Everyone has a role in helping improve the quality of life in our community through different efforts,” she said, suggesting that parents could get involved by volunteering at their student’s school to become more familiar with the staff and resources available there.

“If they do find a time when their youth is starting to exhibit at-risk behaviors, they feel comfortable going to their school staff and asking for help, or they feel comfortable reaching out to community-based organizations,” she said.

In the cases where a child’s parents are not actively involved in their life, she said others should recognize their role in referring the child for help.

“That’s where we heavily have to rely on our teachers. We heavily have to rely on our neighbors, on our aunts, uncles. We have to rely on coaches to make sure that they’re recognizing some of these behaviors, and they’re the ones advocating for these youth.”

Challenges to overcome

Amparan said there are various challenges the city faces. Many families, she said, involve first-generation American youth.

“For many of those parents or caregivers, getting involved with the systems here is their first time, and they don’t quite understand how to maneuver within those systems, and so my team will help support (and help them) understand resources that are available to them, how to access to them, answer questions,” Amparan said. “Take down some of those barriers to ensure that those youth are being served properly.”

The fact that Aurora falls within multiple counties can be another challenge, Amparan said.

“We fall within Adams County and Arapahoe County, for example. Both municipalities have some processes that may be different and so ensuring that, depending on which municipality the youth falls under, that they’re receiving equitable services and that we are shifting from a traditional response…to updated, evidence-based best practices.”