Inside Report: Local group addresses anger in Baton Rouge area youth

Our youth are alarmingly angry.

That was among the Black Family Initiative’s most-salient findings after more than a year of counseling juvenile delinquents in Baton Rouge.

It’s a reality that troubles the Rev. Donald Hunter Sr., the New Beginning Baptist Church pastor who serves as director of the multidenominational initiative.

“We’re very concerned about the impact of this anger problem on a child’s ability to function well in an environment such as education,” Hunter said.

“We have young people that are angry,” he added, “and it’s causing them to be separated from the school environment. So many are being suspended and expelled because of this anger problem.”

The Black Family Initiative, a coalition of pastors and community leaders, has sought to address anger management and related issues such as juvenile crime. Drawing on resources from their own congregations, organizers designed an intervention model that Hunter says is getting through to vulnerable youth in some of the city’s most crime-ridden neighborhoods.

Working with referrals from court and corrections officials, the organization conducted more than 950 therapy sessions with about 100 families over the past year. More than half of the referrals related to anger management, Hunter said.

So what’s fueling this anger? While there’s no single cause, absent fathers are often a common denominator.

“The impact that fathers have on children is significant,” Hunter said, “and when they don’t have that person involved in their lives, it could very well be one of the reasons why they are angry. When a child’s father is not in the home, they recognize that, and it creates a kind of culture that leaves that child at least wanting in areas of development.”

After identifying the source of the anger, counselors try to instill a more-positive outlook in the youth. The interventions are designed to develop self-esteem, improve social skills and promote family unity.

“Family counseling is significant in our intervention,” said Hunter, who plans to address the challenges in more detail at a summit next month.

More than 62 percent of the juveniles did not commit new offenses, said Hunter, who also noted that at least one of the children in the program was murdered.

“The research speaks to what we have to do and the effectiveness of counseling and intervention,” state Sen. Sharon Weston Broome, D-Baton Rouge, said at the Feb. 6 initiative news conference. “I certainly applaud them for this effort.”

The research and counseling last year was funded by a $30,000 grant, Hunter said, and another $15,000 has been secured from the state Office of Juvenile Justice for funding through June.

The initiative has focused on the northern part of East Baton Rouge Parish, including the high-crime 70805 ZIP code area. But Metro Councilwoman Ronnie Edwards said she would like to see the model implemented throughout the community.

“I really see this as a smart initiative,” Edwards said. “We’re taking public policy and public dollars and we’re putting them to smart use, which means the dividends and the return on investment to our community are huge.”

“I would love to see this recommended across the community,” she added. “We’re talking about some of the most vulnerable families in the community.”

Jim Mustian covers law enforcement in East Baton Rouge Parish. His email is jmustian@theadvocate.com