Childhood Exposure to Violence Prevention Week

Julia picks up her 9-year-old son, Eric, from his afterschool program. As they approach their housing complex, a group of teenagers are fighting. One of them has a knife. Another has blood on his leg. People watching on the street make room when they hear the siren and see the lights of the police car. The three young men are thrown to the ground and searched. They are handcuffed and taken away. The youngster with the knife is Eric’s cousin, George.

When Eric asks his mother about the incident, she is too upset to respond. Eric later finds out that his cousin was selling drugs. The following month, Julia gets called to school. Eric is not doing his homework and seems to barely be there mentally. The teachers wonder why a child with so much potential is slipping out of reach.

Like many other elementary-school-aged children exposed to violence, Eric is old enough to express what he is going through, but he needs someone who can understand what he is feeling. The school counselor finds the right outlet for him at the Safe Start program at Massachusetts General Hospital’s Chelsea HealthCare Center.

Eric enters the Cool Youth program, a group therapy program for children, ages 7 to 11, who have been exposed to violence. Meeting once a week with specially trained therapists, Eric and the other children share how the violence they’ve witnessed makes them feel and discuss how to understand and deal with those feelings.

At the same time, Julia joins a group for mothers with children in the Cool Youth program. The mothers exchange personal stories and learn how to help their children overcome the effects of witnessing violence.

By giving Julia and Eric safe spaces and separate forums in which to air their feelings, the Cool Youth program has helped them understand each other better.

The above story, from one of our previous Safe Start grantee sites, is one of many examples of how exposure to violence can impact a child and what can be done to help them. (For more stories from the grantee sites, check out Safe Start: Promising Approaches Communities booklet.)

The National Survey of Children’s Exposure to Violence (NatSCEV) found that 60 percent of the more than 2,000 children questioned had been exposed to violence – either directly or indirectly –- the previous year. Those children reported having witnessed or experienced different types of violence including physical and sexual abuse, bullying and gang violence.

Since the original survey was released, several papers have been written about its findings, including a look at polyvictimization, exposure to multiple types of trauma or violence.

Children and youth who are exposed to multiple types of violence are at particularly high risk for lasting physical, mental, and emotional harm, even compared with children who experience repeated exposures to a single type of violence.  Among the key findings: 8 percent of all youth in the nationally representative NatSCEV sample had seven or more different kinds of exposures to violence, crime, and abuse in the past year. These youth also had a disproportionate share of the most serious kinds of victimizations, such as sexual victimization and parental maltreatment.

Why is all of this important?

Exposure to violence during childhood can continue to impact a person into adulthood. Experiencing a violent event can impact a child’s behavior and performance in school and/or cause them to repeat the negative behaviors with their own children.

Since 1999, the Safe Start initiative has provided funding to different programs around the country to develop and implement evidence-based practices to prevent and treat children’s exposure to violence.

Last year, Attorney General Eric Holder launched the Defending Childhood Initiative, which is taking a look at children’s exposure to violence from a law enforcement point of view.

Please take a look at the work both initiatives are doing to find the wealth of resources available.

Started by Chicago Safe Start, the third week in April serves as Childhood Exposure to Violence (CEV) Prevention Week. Increasingly more researchers, medical professionals, educators and families are realizing the impact exposure to violence can have on our children. We hope you’ll join us this week as we spread the word about CEV here on the blog and Facebook and Twitter accounts.

Also, we’d love to hear why you think children’s exposure to violence is an important issue and work you’ve done to prevent or reduce its effects.

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One Response

  1. “Childhood Exposure to Violence Prevention Week
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