To the editors:

I was pleased to see the Reader take on an issue as serious as gang crime and the strong role the CIN program plays in helping to reduce this plague facing society today [“Our Gang,” March 4]. The incidence of intervention you outlined point to the value of the Intervention Workers. Unfortunately, the article was not able to make that point without criticizing the role of the social agencies participating in the program. The article quoted Irving Spergel as saying, “[those agencies] haven’t been dealing with the problem before, how are they going to deal with it now?” Dr. Spergel is speaking from an uninformed position. For example, Christopher House has been working with children, youth and families since 1906. Our youth programs, partly funded by CIN, include recreation, tutoring and social groups. Our job is prevention.

Our approach to Youth Crime Intervention is different than the Mobile Intervention Teams’. Working closely with the Chicago Police Department, referrals are made directly to Christopher House following the arrest of the youth. Christopher House social workers go into the home and work directly with the youth and his/her family where individual and family therapy is provided. In addition, many of the offenders participate in group sessions. Our statistics prove our effectiveness. Nearly 88 percent of the youth involved in the program have not had a subsequent arrest. Following through with our prevention approach, Christopher House Social Workers provide a prevention program at the Schneider School and the Lathrop Boys and Girls Club, offering groups as a vehicle for building self-esteem. Parent groups are offered at two Christopher House locations and at the Lathrop site where discipline, parenting and other pertinent child development issues are discussed. How does the program really work? An example will best describe it. Last year, a young high school girl had been referred to us from the Police Department following her arrest. She was an active member of the PeeWee Latin Queens and a tough street kid. Our intervention included individual, group and family counseling. After a difficult period with some successes, she reenrolled in school. We got her involved in our tutoring program and placed her with a volunteer. The volunteer was an attorney and even though they came from different worlds, the relationship bloomed. The girl had a good role model. Today, she is close to finishing high school and her future plans include college and hopefully law school. This example demonstrates a major success; we achieve successes regularly.

The CIN program as described in Mr. Cohen’s article is a good use of public dollars. Your article demonstrated the value of the City’s direct program. I believe the Christopher House experience points to the value of the dollars invested in the traditional social agencies. Our society usually waits for social problems to reach crisis proportions before reacting. While developing preventive approaches to problems is costly, it is cheaper than the cost of waiting until the problem blows up.

Richard J. Nitti

Executive Director

Christopher House