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.
In response to these troubling statistics and others, Holder launched the Defending Childhood Initiative in 2010, which has since resulted in a report on prevalence and recommendations. Throughout the month of July we’ll take a closer look at some of the recommendations, what is being done and what you can do to help.
One of the Task Force’s recommendations is to “expand access to home visiting services for families with children who are exposed to violence, focusing on safety and referral to services.”
Currently, there are several different early childhood home visiting models, all of which provide services designed to improve maternal and child health, early cognitive and emotional development, and family safety and stability, including family violence prevention. As a result, the Affordable Care Act (2010) included provisions to support America’s Healthy Futures Act, a $1.5 billion, five-year national initiative to support maternal infant and early childhood home visitation programs.In addition to providing funds to support these services, the legislation also included new benchmark requirements for States. One such benchmark requires home visitation programs to measure a reduction in “crime or domestic violence.”
Home visitation programs have demonstrated success, among others, in preventing child abuse and neglect and domestic violence and in connecting families to community-based resources, including appropriate domestic violence services. However, much of the potential of these home visitation programs remains unrealized because few programs fully integrate exposure to violence assessment and training into their programs. If home visiting programs are to reach their full potential as a prevention and early intervention strategy it is essential that they address caregiver and children’s exposure to violence by becoming trauma-informed.
Trauma-informed care is an approach to engaging caregivers and children with histories of exposure to violence and other traumatic events acknowledging the role that trauma plays in the lives of families and staff. When a home visitation program takes the step to become trauma-informed all of the services are assessed and potentially modified to include a basic understanding of how trauma may be affecting the lives of the families being served.
With the support of appropriate training, interventions and policies, home visiting programs can play a vital role both in reducing the impact of exposure to violence and on improving the well-being of vulnerable families. Efforts to better respond to the needs of children who have been exposed to violence can also help save resources, both by reducing health costs and by preventing the need for more costly services and system-involvement down the road.
Realizing the Promise of Home Visitation: Addressing Domestic Violence and Child Maltreatment. A Guide For Policy Makers developed by Futures Without Violence, Safe Start Center and the Avon Foundation offers suggestions to make home visitation programs trauma-informed.
The Healthy Moms, Happy Babies: Train the Trainers Curriculum was created by Futures Without Violence to support states and their home visitation programs in developing a core competency strategy, ensuring that all home visitation programs are equipped to help women and children living in homes with domestic violence.
In addition, the following Trauma-Informed Care Tip Sheets may be helpful for home visitors:
- Tips for Parent Education Programs
- Tips for Parents and Other Caregivers
- Tips for Early Childhood Providers
- Tips for Engaging Men and Fathers
The prevalence of children’s exposure to violence in home visitation programs is extraordinarily high. Often these families have experienced multiple types of victimization and the trauma of poverty. On-going exposure to adverse experiences can impact all areas of children’s lives, including biological, cognitive, and emotional functioning; social interactions/relationships; and identity formation. How the home visitation staff responds to the needs of children and families who have experienced trauma has a significant impact on preventing the occurrence and reducing the impact of exposure to violence.