Many well-meaning social programs don’t quite get to the root of the problem—they only treat the symptoms of a social issue. The stories in this collection are about approaches to problems that go beyond "Band-Aid" solutions and attempt to address the root causes of social issues (an SJN Success Factor category). By digging deep and attacking the root causes of a problem, changemakers can treat the disease rather than just the symptoms. These solutions offer help to those in need, employ a comprehensive approach to problem-solving, and address the determinants that keep individuals and communities from succeeding.
How can we target problems such as crime, terrorism, drug addiction, obesity and poverty at their roots? Our Success Factor guide breaks down the idea into three categories: addressing underlying issues, providing help instead of punishment, and using a comprehensive approach.
Addressing underlying issues means facing the structural and systemic causes of problems, digging them out when they might otherwise remain hidden. Chip Brownlee's article, for example, discusses a Texas violence intervention program that reduces street shootings, preventing the need for police involvement that would otherwise escalate the violence and harm. Cheryl Splain's article covers the support systems implemented for social workers who were facing high burnout rates due to the traumatic nature of their work; by investing time and energy in supporting these workers, agencies were able to better serve their at-risk populations.
J. Brian Charles’ article about an initiative working on reducing teen violence by helping mothers cope with trauma provides an example of a solution that provides help rather than punishing people who find themselves in problematic situations.
In other situations, the best way to address the underlying cause of a problem is by employing a comprehensive approach that helps people address multiple, related issues—read Emily Dech's article to learn about how SNAP-Ed educators are helping people get the most of out of supplemental nutrition programs. Attacking root causes is a particularly crucial step in public health concerns such as poverty and poor nutrition
Click here to search the Solutions Story Tracker database of solutions journalism stories on how people around the world are responding to social and environmental challenges
Student analysis and experience level: Introductory
- Texas Considers a Novel Push for Gun Violence Prevention describes a violence-intervention program that pairs street outreach workers (many of them former gang members) with young men at risk of getting shot or shooting others to mediate disputes and provide counseling. What makes this approach effective? How does it differ from standard American policing practices?
- Explain how the SNAP-Ed program helps to address the root causes of obesity? Why is the educational component significant to having a comprehensive approach?
- Assess the effectiveness of the two-pronged approach to supporting social workers implemented by he Knox County Department of Job & Family Services. What made Knox County's approach to social worker burnout/turnover different to other approaches?
- Create a collection using stories in the StoryTracker about solutions that are addressing a social issue at its roots! Then, find a story about the same problem that seems to focus more on a symptom rather than the root cause. Come to class prepared to describe the difference between the two approaches and which one you would support financially if you could, and why.
- Journalism is a collaborative practice: reporters are writing for their community, but they also depend on community members as sources for information. Indeed, the very purpose of journalism, according to the American Press Institute, is to provide citizens with the information they need to make the best possible decisions about their lives, their communities, their societies, and their governments. With that in mind, SJN wants to help connect news readers and journalists. Beside the name of the journalist on any of our story pages or the results page of the Solutions Story Tracker, you’ll find a Twitter icon that will link you directly to the journalists profile. Tweet at them with questions or compliments about their piece - you might be surprised by how much writers want to engage with their audiences! Don’t forget to tag us too (@soljourno) and use the hashtag #journalistintheclassroom if you are reading as part of an academic assignment.
- The article explains that VIP Fort Worth is effective because it does more than just intervene in unfurling crises as they happen; the program also includes long-term stabilization support for young men believed to be involved in the cycle of violence. Outreach workers connect young men to social and health services, employment, and educational opportunities. Rather than presuming guilt or condemning these young men to a lifetime of violence and imprisonment, initiatives like VIP For Worth offer a viable escape route. Outreach programs are a way to offer assistance in communities where young men of color are afraid of law enforcement, replacing cops with community members who have direct experience in gang life and street violence.
- The SNAP-Ed program supplements the economic aid given to recipients with education to help form habits to ensure the benefits achieve their greatest success. The educational program helps to make the nutritional benefits more comprehensive, but you may wish to ask students consider how this relates to addressing the root causes of poverty more broadly. One of the individuals in the article still faces challenges getting to the grocery store, for instance, suggesting that not all root causes of poverty can be addressed by a silver bullet approach.
- As you may read in the teaching module for Attacking Root Causes, one approach to getting to the root cause of a question involves asking “why” over and over, delving deeper and deeper into the causes of an issue. Knox County's program included new questions and experimentation with new methods, helping to move past prior approaches that only addressed symptoms to new ideas that get closer to the roots of the secondary traumatic stress that affects half of all social workers and leads to burnout and rapid turnover, which can be six times higher at children's services agencies than the national average. Knox County began providing immediate assistance to employees via free mental health counseling, but further research showed that the root of much of this stress was actual poor management. So, a new program was begun to train managers in providing the needed supervision and feedback to help workers develop proper coping skills.
- Answers will vary! For more on Success Factors, click here. For more on creating collections, click here.