Defending Childhood Task Force Recommendations: A closer look

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Attorney General Eric Holder affirms that children’s exposure to violence is nothing less than a national crisis. With this public health issue comes serious ramifications for the future of our country and the young men and women who will soon be called upon to build that future.

The horrific mass shooting in Newtown, Connecticut that claimed the lives of 20 elementary school children and six adults last December served as a shocking reminder of how much is at stake in the ongoing fight to protect the most vulnerable citizens: children.   Nearly every day the tragedy that took place at Sandy Hook Elementary School is compounded by individual tragedies that take place on the streets of big cities and small towns across the country that too often pass unnoticed.

The most comprehensive study of children’s experience with exposure to violence is the National Survey of Children’s Exposure to Violence (NatSCEV), first conducted 2008-2009. Results indicate that 60 percent of children surveyed had experienced at least one form of violence or abuse over the past year, nearly half experienced at least two forms of victimization, and 8 percent experienced seven or more different types of victimization.  An update released earlier this year confirms that this data remained fairly stable in the study done in 2011.

Defending Childhood Initiative

In response to these troubling statistics and others, Attorney General Eric Holder launched the Defending Childhood initiative on September 23, 2010. The Attorney General has been personally and professionally committed to this issue for many years, dating back to early in his career when he served as the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia and through his tenure as Deputy Attorney General. Building on lessons learned from previously funded research and programs that Attorney General Holder spearheaded, such as Safe Start, the Child Development-Community Policing Program, and the Greenbook Initiative, Defending Childhood leverages existing resources across the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) to focus on preventing, addressing, reducing, and more fully understanding childhood exposure to violence.

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Join us for CEV Week April 15-19!

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We are facing one of the most significant challenges to the future of America’s children that we have ever known. Our children are experiencing and witnessing violence on an alarming scale.

 –Defending Childhood Task Force co-chairmen Joe Torre and Robert Listenbee, Jr.

According to the National Survey of Children’s Exposure to Violence (NatSCEV), 60 percent of American children are exposed to violence, crime or abuse in their homes, schools and communities. Be it bullying, domestic violence or child abuse, exposure to violence – particularly multiple exposures – can interfere with a child’s physical, emotional, and intellectual development.

To stress the point that everyone plays an important role in CEV prevention, the theme for this year’s CEV Prevention and Awareness Week is “Every Person. Every Day.

Wondering what role you can play? You can:

Tweet with us! Feel free to join us on Twitter using #CEVweek to post interesting articles and resources related to children’s exposure to violence. Also, we’re having a Twitter chat with psychologist and NatSCEV researcher Sherry Hamby at 2 p.m. EST Wed. April 17. Learn more here.

Learn with us! On Thurs. April 18 we will host a webinar, Unlocking the Development of Children Exposed to Violence. Panelists will discuss how exposure to violence impacts a child’s development and ways that schools and the child welfare system can better respond to trauma. Register here.

CEVWeek TwibbonTake a picture! Throughout April we are running a photo sharing campaign, asking individuals and groups to take a photo with the week’s slogan, “Every Person. Every Day.” We’ll collect these photos into an album on Facebook and share on other social media outlets to show others’ support of the idea that preventing and treating childhood exposure to violence involves everyone. Print out the CEV Week logo here, take your photo with it and send it to or tag us on Facebook (Safe Start Center) and Twitter (@safestartcenter).

Get social! Visit the CEV Week campaign page to spread the word on social media. There you’ll find sample messages and graphics to show your support for CEV Week.

We hope organizations and community groups such as law enforcement, mental health practitioners, child welfare organizations and domestic violence victim advocates will share knowledge online and offline about how to prevent CEV and reduce its impact, as well as how to take action in their communities. Facts and resources to support you at every step are available in the CEV Week Toolkit and the Chicago Safe Start website.

You have the power to educate others, change behaviors, and help shape the future for children. We look forward to working with you to observe this important week and keep the momentum going!

Women Making an Impact on CEV: Susan Craig

This month the Safe Start Center is honoring National Women’s History Month by profiling women who have made an impact on the issue of children’s exposure to violence.

Susan CraigDr. Susan E. Craig is an accomplished author having published books including Reaching and Teaching Children Who Hurt: Strategies for Your Classroom as well as having created the essential training series Including All Children: Supporting Preschool Children with Disabilities. 

Dr. Craig is also a professional trainer committed to teaching and training school staff throughout the country. Her work provides them with professional development tools to help them in creating an inclusive and trauma-informed environment for their students. Her ultimate goal is to help parents and caregivers support children effected by trauma and help them to thrive.

You can also read more about her work on her blog

Why do you feel children’s exposure to violence and traumatic stress is an important issue and how did you get involved?

According to SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration)  26% of children under age four have suffered some type of trauma or toxic stress. We know that prolonged exposure to stress in early childhood changes the architecture of children’s brains in ways that threaten every aspect of their well-being: their ability to learn, as well as their physical and mental health. And yet there is no public outrage about it.

My interest in the relationship between CEV and learning began early in my career when I was working as a reading specialist. Many of the children referred for evaluations had histories of family violence. So I decided to find out if there was a connection. My doctoral dissertation established a relationship between CEV and subsequent learning problems in language, memory, impulsivity, self-differentiation and executive function. These findings, (published in Phi Delta Kappan in 1992) are now confirmed by research which documents the relationship between CEV and brain development.

What would you say are a few of the most valuable things you have learned through your work in schools training teachers and staff about the impact of trauma on children?

A trauma sensitive approach to teaching reflects best practices in education. Its emphasis on relationships, safety, and self-regulation benefit all children. So schools should jump at the chance, rather than fear implementing trauma sensitive strategies.

What would you like to see develop in research, policy and/or communities regarding children’s exposure to violence and traumatic stress?

How does CEV affect literacy and language development? Many of the adolescents who drop out or who are incarcerated cannot read. It is possible that the deficits in executive functioning observed in CEV combine to make learning to read difficult. I’d like to know more about that.

In terms of policy, we need to revamp early intervention services to make them available to all infants and toddlers. Children with disabilities make tremendous gains when they receive services from birth. I think we would see similar gains for children exposed to violence.

I would like to see educators invited to collaborate with mental health and juvenile justice professionals. Teachers work every day with children exposed to violence. Their participation in discussions of community based support is invaluable.

Year in Review: Our favorite posts

This year has been a busy one in the effort to reduce, treat and eliminate the harmful impacts of childhood exposure to violence. Our grantees have continued working to implement evidence-based programs in their communities, building knowledge and awareness about CEV and its consequences has been widespread, and the Defending Childhood Task Force just issued a report and policy recommendations on how to further work to end CEV.

We’re ready to keep rolling in 2013, but wanted to share some of our favorite blog posts from 2012:

Here at the Safe Start Center we had a breakout blogger this year…our Director Elena Cohen. This post from her is a staff favorite because it took her knowledge surrounding children’s exposure to violence and related it to a current event, the mass shooting at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado.


Human trafficking is a serious public health and child protection issue worldwide, but it is a growing and serious domestic concern in the U.S. This post stands out because it sheds light on this problem and how it’s affecting children across the nation and shares resources to stop it.
Another favorite from our Director, Elena Cohen, discusses how policy responds to domestic violence exposure and how parents and caregivers can help children cope positively when they’re affected by domestic violence.

The use of storytelling is a powerful way to educate about a specific issue. In this guest post for Child Abuse Awareness Month, George Washington shares his story about how abuse and exposure to violence as a child impacted him long into adulthood.


Child sexual abuse has heartbreaking consequences but this post highlights an amazing campaign, Pinwheels for Prevention, that starts a conversation about stopping abuse and preventing child abuse and neglect from happening!

Was there a post you really liked or learned from? Share it with us in the comments below!

Defending Childhood Task Force issues report, recommendations

Defending Childhood task force

Photo courtesy of OJJDP

“We are facing one of the most significant challenges to the future of America’s children that we have ever known. Our children are experiencing and witnessing violence on an alarming scale.”

 - Defending Childhood Task Force co-chairs Joe Torre & Robert Listenbee Jr.

Dec. 12, the Defending Childhood Task Force turned over its final report to Attorney General Eric Holder.

Created in October 2011, the 13-member task force visited four communities across the country, hosting hearings to learn about children’s exposure to violence, an experience co-chair Joe Torre said enriched his life.

Task force members told stories of speaking with gang members, parents and practitioners that resulted in the 56 recommendations that make up the report.

Recommendations include:

1.2 – Appoint a federal task force or commission to examine the needs of American Indian/Alaska Native children exposed to violence.

1.3 – Engage youth as leaders and peer experts in all initiatives defending children against violence and its harmful effects.

2.3 – Include curricula in all university undergraduate and graduate programs to ensure that every child- and family-serving professional receives training in multiple evidence-based methods for identifying and screening children for exposure to violence.

4.5 – Create multidisciplinary councils or coalitions to assure systemwide collaboration and coordinated community responses to children exposed to family violence.

Read the full report here.

According to the report, 46 million children in the U.S. will be exposed to violence this year.

The Safe Start and Defending Childhood initiatives provide funding to organizations across the country that are providing evidence-based programs and interventions to reduce and eliminate childhood exposure to violence and it’s negative impacts.

We compiled tweets from the task force’s presentation, which include related resources here.

What do you think about the report and recommendations? Were you surprised by anything? Are you already doing some of the recommendations? Tell us in the comments below.

#CEVchat: Children and DV recap

Exposure to DV puts kids at risk for becoming poly-victims, more so than many other forms of violence.

– Sherry Hamby, psychologist and NatSCEV researcher

In observance of Domestic Violence Awareness Month, Safe Start Center teamed up with VAWnet to host a Twitter chat on children’s exposure to domestic violence.

Special guest Sherry Hamby discussed the issue related to findings from the National Survey of Children’s Exposure to Violence (NatSCEV).

Hamby explained that NatSCEV found more than one in four children were exposed to domestic violence during their lifetime and that the definition of parents has been expanded to include others in a household that may participate in the violence.

“Boyfriends of mothers, for example, were 1 of 9 perpetrators and are missed in most studies of children’s exposure to dv,” Hamby tweeted.

Other than Hamby’s insight, participants from across the country were able to connect, ask questions and share resources. From polyvictimization to building resilience, the chat covered multiple aspects of children’s exposure to domestic violence.

Missed the chat? Catch up on the discussion on Storify.

Domestic Violence Awareness Month is almost over, but work to protect children exposed to this type of violence isn’t. Below, find helpful resources for anyone who works with children and families touched by domestic violence.

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#CEVchat: CEV in the Home

You’re Invited!

Please join us Oct. 24 at 2 p.m. ET as we take to Twitter to discuss domestic violence’s impact on children. In observance of Domestic Violence Awareness Month, we’re joining forces with VAWnet to discuss the prevalence and implications of children’s exposure to domestic violence and what parents, practitioners and family advocates can do to help.

A 2006 study published in the Journal of Family Psychology found that 15.5 million children in the U.S. lived in families in which violence between partners occurred at least once in the previous year.  The study also found seven million children lived in families in which severe partner violence occurred.

To increase awareness, the Safe Start Center recently released a toolkit focused on children’s exposure to domestic violence.  The toolkit includes an easy to understand infographic, issue brief and tip sheets on CEV and how adults can help.

VAWnet, a project of the National Resource Center on Domestic Violence, is an online library supporting evidence-based, culturally-specific prevention and response to domestic and sexual violence. VAWnet’s collection of materials on Children Exposed to Domestic Violence review key research findings and offer promising practices.

We hope you’ll join us using #CEVchat to follow and participate in the conversation. Questions about how our Twitter chats work? Find instructions here or click on the Twitter Chats tab at the top of this page.

Register here:

Feedback? Questions?  Feel free to contact us at

Mental Health in Young Children: Why Early Experiences Matter

We’re kicking off Mental Health Month with a discussion about how difficult situations experienced as a child can set people off on a negative path in life. Charles Zeanah, M.D. , Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Tulane University School of Medicine, and other researchers, argue that negative experiences in childhood can change the architecture of a person’s brain, setting them up for mental health problems or other issues in the future.

Below are clips of his talk for the Academic Distinction Fund’s Distinguished Speakers Series last month.

While Dr. Zeanah doesn’t specifically discuss exposure to violence, he does explain that “Adverse early experiences may have long term consequences, affecting not only mental health, but physical health… Genetics supplies the basic blue print for brain development. But experiences that the individual child has adjusts the genetic brain plan of the brain and shapes the architecture of its neuro-circuits.”

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Violence Exposure: The importance of evidence-based interventions

From Elena Cohen, project director of the Safe Start Center. For decades she has worked on the issue of children’s exposure to violence.

Most of us want to be smart shoppers. For example, before purchasing a car, we read consumer guides to learn what cars are most reliable, which get the best gas mileage and which are the best buy for our money.  When given the choice between selecting a medical treatment that has been recommended – but not back by scientific evidence – or one that has been proven by clinical research to be effective, most of us will choose the one backed by scientific evidence.

Importantly, the federal government, associations such as the American Psychological Association, American Pediatric Association and the National Association of Social Workers, as well as private funding groups are increasing their demands to base social policy and other decisions and programs on sound evidence as to their effectiveness. Using an evidence-based approach to social policy has a number of advantages because it has the potential to decrease the tendency to run programs which are socially acceptable (e.g. drug education in schools) but which often prove to be ineffective when evaluated.

When it comes to children and youth who are exposed to violence, most are never formally identified, assessed, and/or treated. Yet the emotional, social, and psychological impact of their exposure is observed by families and practitioners in many settings. Research has demonstrated that exposure to violence is associated with increased use of health and mental health services and increased risk of involvement with the child welfare and juvenile justice systems.

For many children who have been exposed to violence, a change in the environment may not be enough.   Some may require specialized interventions that are delivered in their homes and communities.  Such interventions, when they are effective, can improve outcomes for children well into their adult years and can generate benefits to society that far exceed program costs.

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National Child Abuse Prevention Month

According to the most recent Child Maltreatment Report, released by Administration for Children and Families in 2010, about 3.3 million referrals alleging child maltreatment were filed with child welfare agencies, involving 5.9 million children.

Children birth to 3 years old represented the largest group of confirmed child abuse and neglect victims. Caucasian children were victims of maltreatment in 44 percent of the cases, the most of any other race, but African American children were victimized at a higher rate. Most children (78 percent) were reported for neglect, while 18 percent suffered from physical abuse.

From all of those statistics, some could highlight a specific population most at risk, but child abuse and neglect is not specific to any one race, religion or community.

Also documented in the Child Maltreatment Report, an average of 1,560 children have died from child abuse and neglect in the United States each of the past five years. The victims vary in age, race and type of violence experienced.

As if the direct impact on children’s health, safety and well-being weren’t enough, the financial impact on the economy is staggering:

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