Centering Youth Experiences to Address Community Violence: A Youth Participatory Action Research Project

Centering Youth Experiences to Address Community Violence: A Youth Participatory Action Research Project is a youth-led research project that explores the root causes and consequences of community violence in Wards 7 and 8 of Washington, DC. This project is funded by the National Institutes of Justice and facilitated by Child Trends, in partnership with Sasha Bruce Youthwork. Through this project, youth conduct mixed methods research to examine community violence in their neighborhoods, identify opportunities to address community violence through policy and practice, and work with key decision makers to implement their evidence-based recommendations for advancing community safety in Washington, DC.


Community violence—or interpersonal violence that occurs in public spaces between individuals or small groups who may or may not know each other—is an epidemic of the young, as most survivors and perpetrators of community violence are youth ages 14 to 24. Community violence, the majority of which is caused by firearm violence, is the second leading cause of death for youth and the leading cause of death among Black youth. Similarly, youth are affected by some of the highest rates of violent victimization leading to injury.

Despite youth being the most affected demographic, limited research on community violence prevention and intervention (CVPI) has been produced by young people themselves. To address this issue, Child Trends has partnered with Sasha Bruce Youthwork to engage youth ages 14 to 24 in a three-year, mixed-method Youth Participatory Action Research (or YPAR; see box for more) project to improve our understanding of youth’s experiences—as witnesses, survivors, and/or perpetrators—of community violence in Washington, DC.

What is Youth Participatory Action Research?

Youth Participatory Action Research (YPAR) is a research approach that is well suited to help researchers and youth explore questions related to justice (e.g., questions related to fair treatment of individuals, groups, and communities) and equity (e.g., questions related to fair distribution of resources, opportunities, and privileges among individuals regardless of their backgrounds, identities, or circumstances). YPAR emphasizes both broad participation—aiming to redefine who is “allowed” to conduct and disseminate research—and action, as researchers and youth seek to co-create knowledge that can be used to advance positive change. YPAR focuses on teaching youth to use research to understand, confront, and change the forces that reproduce inequities that they, their peers, and their communities may experience.


Within this project, we partner with two teams of six youth researchers to co-create and execute two research studies. The first team includes older youth ages 18 to 24, while the second team is comprised of younger youth (ages 14 to 17) accompanied by two mentors from the older youth team. Findings from the two studies will enable us to better understand the extent to which youths’ experiences of community violence vary as they age, which will help us identify developmentally appropriate CVPI strategies. At the end of the project, the two research teams will converge to compare findings and collectively identify overarching recommendations.

Youth researchers make all decisions within the work, while Child Trends and Sasha Bruce Youthwork provide training and mentorship. Within each study, youth researchers complete five key actions: 1) crafting research questions; 2) developing data collection methods and protocols; 3) collecting and analyzing data; 4) identifying findings and developing tailored recommendations for advancing practice and policy; and 5) sharing recommendations with key officials and community leaders to advance change.


This project is a unique opportunity for advancing research, policy, and practice in CVPI.

  • Research. The findings from this study have a strong potential to inform Washington, DC’s ongoing response to rising rates of community violence. DC has invested millions of dollars into evidence-informed CVPI strategies and has funded research on the drivers of youth crime and gun violence, investments that demonstrate a commitment to using evidence and data to inform CVPI.
  • The study findings will inform the development of CVPI policy and program recommendations for DC. Throughout the process, we will engage local leaders deeply involved in CVPI efforts in DC because partner engagement is key for promoting the use of research evidence in practice and policy. This engagement will allow the youth researchers to collaborate with local leaders to advance positive change in their community using their research.
  • This project is one of the first research studies to use YPAR—an innovative method grounded in racial equity—to study community violence. This is important because very little CVPI scholarship (and, by extension, the practice and policy decisions based on that scholarship) is produced by individuals who are most impacted by community violence. Furthermore, this study will produce resources for researchers interested in engaging in future YPAR studies on community violence, which can contribute to diversifying the evidence base.


At the completion of each study and the project as a whole, we will spotlight policy and practice recommendations and disseminate findings to local and national audiences. New learnings will be posted below:

Year 1 Learnings

Four Hot Tips for Supporting Youth Researchers’ Career Development (Upcoming)
This blog discusses how the project supports the career development of its youth researchers.

For more information about this project, contact us at


This study is funded by the National Institute of Justice (#15PNIJ-22-GG-01420-RESS).

Older Youth Participatory Action Team
Elijah Jones, Youth Researcher
Meagan Tutt, Youth Researcher
Zionnah Garnett, Youth Researcher
Jermese Perkins, Youth Researcher
London Mclean, Youth Researcher
Ike Tobechi, Youth Researcher
Ife Tobechi, Youth Researcher
Quiana Lewis Wallace, Child Trends
Deja Logan, Child Trends
Courtney Gibbs, Sasha Bruce Youthwork
Bianca Faccio, Sasha Bruce Youthwork

Research Team Members

Principal investigators: Samantha Holquist, Kelly Murphy

Co-investigator: Quiana Lewis Wallace

Child Trends staff: Deja Logan, Liv Reyes, Jennifer Widstrand

Sasha Bruce Youthwork staff: Deborah Shore, Donnell Potts, Bianca Faccio, Courtney Gibbs, Ivana Gutierrez, Jane McGhee