Expertise in community mental health and violence prevention in urban communities

Kathryn Bocanegra

Through over 15 years of experience in community mental health and violence prevention, Kathryn Bocanegra has seen firsthand the trauma experienced by street intervention workers. “They not only witness violence, they have personal experiences with violence. They often work in the same communities where they have experienced harm or previously harmed others,” she says. “This takes a toll on their physical and emotional health, and their relationships. It even impacts their ability to effectively do their job.”

Now, under a grant from the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, she is working to understand the effect of trauma exposure among street intervention workers and to identify supports that mitigate the effects of this trauma in their personal and professional lives. Through interviews with 35 intervention workers in several Chicago neighborhoods, as well as with their supervisors, she will gain insights into best practices for supporting these workers.

“Trauma-informed and healing-centered approaches to violence prevention work have become commonplace over the last five years” says Bocanegra. “Individuals employed in street intervention practice are trained in these frameworks to help them work more effectively with clients. It is important, however, for the same approach to be used within organizations to support street intervention staff in the difficult work they do.” At the completion of the study in Winter 2021 she will have manualized the findings into training modules that assist organizations in creating supportive work environments for street intervention staff, as well as mechanisms to develop their leadership skills and career trajectories.

Bocanegra is also collaborating with scholars at other institutions with a common goal of strengthening street intervention work as one of the primary measures of public safety in urban communities. “Street intervention staff are leaders in developing more robust infrastructures for community safety,” she say. “Their expertise, often born out of personal suffering, should be promoted at a larger scale as our city develops multifaceted strategies to reduce violence and heal from historical and structural violence.”

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