Reducing Youth Violence Through Strengthening Families (via 9News)

Funding for a five-year project led by CU-Boulder will end in 2016. That means a second batch of data will be collected this fall that researchers hope reflects a 10 percent reduction in youth violence and other developmental risks.

The program called "Steps to Success" began in 2011 with a $5.4 million grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The program offers several resources for Montbello youth and their families to identify risk factors and make corrections in areas of their lives where risk factors are high.

Those risk factors are early and persistent problem behavior, family management and family conflict, and friends engaging in anti-social behavior.

One resource in particular is very popular with Montbello families. That's "Strengthening Families," hosted by two churches in the neighborhood. It helps parents and kids ages 10 to 14 improve communication among themselves.

"People don't talk to their kids or listen to what their kids think. That causes all sorts of problems," said Montbello father Stanley Mills. "So they look to their peers, they look to drugs and alcohol."

Stanley and his wife Zuton have 10 kids and saw the need to go through the program.

"Instead of getting into arguments and power struggles, things like that, you can use some basic tools to explain yourself," he said.

The funding allowed researchers to conduct extensive interviews with families in the neighborhood. What they found was that students were much more likely to stay home from school, in fear of being in danger on the way to or from class, than the national average.

The study also shows that 23 percent of Montbello high school students had been in a fight in the 12 months prior to conducting the study. Compare that to 12 percent nationwide. That's one of several statistics showing Montbello kids are in need for some behavioral improvement.

Site manager Shelli Brown says the research identified two key protective factors, areas where children can improve their ability to steer clear of violence in the first place. She says recognition and religiosity play key roles.

"We want positive recognition to be second nature. Because that's what helps support the young people when they're doing what they're supposed to be doing. And so many of them are," Brown said.

She says being part of a church, regardless of religious affiliation, has also proven to improve the path children take. Two churches host the Strengthening families programs. The bottomline, she says, is being part of a close knit community with a sense of morals, helps.

The Mills family is just one family going through the program.

"We know they go to school and talk to their peers. So something should rub off. And as it rubs off on one it rubs off on the other. What you have is a turnaround," Zuton said.

The hope is that the new data collected in the fall reflects the work Montbello has put in. If programs are successful they'll need more funding to continue running the programs.

If you are interested in donating to the Strengthening Families 10-14 program, write a check payable to Steps to Success and send to the Montbello office: Steps to Success, Attn: Shelli Brown, 4725 Paris Street, Suite 300, Denver 80239.