Defending Childhood Recommendations: Home visiting services

DCI report header

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.”
Continue reading

Defending Childhood Recommendations: Domestic violence services

DCI report header

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 of childhood exposure to violence and recommendations to address it. 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 recommendations is to “ensure that parents who are victims of domestic violence have access to services and counseling that help them protect and care for their children.”

Everyone knows that within intimate relationships, conflicts occur. When parents handle differences calmly, particularly in the presence of their children, they are helping to shield their children from toxic stress. On the other hand, heated confrontations in front of children are much more likely to teach even young children that home is far from safe. This is particularly true when there are frequent hostile interactions between parents. Repeated exposure to such conflicts can be a source of chronic stress. Infants can begin to worry for their parents and to see their parents as frightening. Toddlers and school-aged children are likely to learn aggressive behavior and develop poor social and emotional skills.

Continue reading

Defending Childhood Recommendations: Engage fathers

DCI report header

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 of childhood exposure to violence and recommendations to address it.

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 recommendations of the Task Force recommendations is to “ensure that parenting programs in child- and family-serving agencies, including fatherhood programs and other programs specifically for men integrate strategies for preventing domestic violence and sexual assault and include reparation strategies when violence has already occurred.”

A father’s engagement with their children is associated with positive cognitive, social, and emotional development from infancy to adolescence. The father’s role is more than that of economic provider and includes nurturing, caregiving, and emotional support in both obvious and subtle ways.

Continue reading

Defending Childhood Recommendations: Identification

DCI report header

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 of childhood exposure to violence and recommendations to address it. 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.

“The first crucial step in protecting our children is to identify and provide timely and effective help to those who already are being victimized by violence.”

Defending Childhood Task Force Report

One of the recommendations of the Task Force is to “ensure that children exposed to violence are identified, screened and assessed.”

To reach this goal, it is crucial that staff serving children and families have the knowledge and skills needed to understand, recognize and address the impact of victimization and traumatic experiences on children.

Continue reading

The NatSCEV II: a Q&A with Dr. Sherry Hamby

The National Survey of Children’s Exposure to Violence (NatSCEV), a joint effort by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention and the Centers for Disease Control, first surveyed the incidence and prevalence of children’s exposure to violence in 2008. The survey included 4,500 children and looked at these changes across the spectrum of violence, abuse, and assault including conventional crime, maltreatment and sexual victimization.

This week the NatSCEV II was released as a follow up to the 2008 data. The survey, completed in 2011 with a new cohort of 4,500 children, provides an update of the trends for childhood exposure to violence and abuse victimizations.

The Safe Start Center met with Dr. Sherry Hamby, a Research Professor in the Department of Psychology at Sewanee, the University of the South and part of the team who developed and conducted the NatSCEV to discuss the release of the NatSCEV II.

1. What do you think is some of the most important new data that people should be aware of from this update of the NatSCEV?

NatSCEV 2 is important because this is part of the first ongoing effort to track crime, violence, and abuse against children of all ages. We hope this will be regular surveillance, much like the way we have tracked crimes against adults for many decades, including crimes that are not reported to the police.

NatSCEV 2 also shows that rates of youth victimization are generally holding steady, despite the financial crisis. Although financial strain can have adverse effects on families, overall we did not see a worsening of children’s exposure to violence. Although these rates are still far too high, it is good news they are not getting worse.

2. Are there any areas of the research that you think could be expanded upon in the future?

We are always trying to expand research into new domains–that is the essence of science. In NatSCEV 2, we have some exciting new data, including new approaches to measuring neglect and the criminal justice and social service response to family violence. Look for upcoming papers on these and other topics.

3. How would you like to see this new data used to inform ongoing research and the field of children’s exposure to violence?

If I could wave my magic wand, there are two changes I would most like to see. The first is a more integrated approach to research and practice, instead of siloed programs and institutions that tend to focus on just one problem at a time, such as parental abuse OR bullying. It should be parental abuse AND bullying AND all of the other types of victimization children experience. The second is a more developmental approach where we don’t take programs developed for high school students–or worse, college students–and then with just a few tweaks try to offer essentially the same program to middle or elementary school students. Kids have different needs at different ages.

4. Is there anything else you’d like to add about the updated findings?

This is the third nationally representative U.S. sample that shows the importance of poly-victimization. Poly-victimization is the experiencing of multiple different types of violence, usually in multiple settings by multiple perpetrators. Keeping children safe requires a child-centered approach that includes all the major settings and relationships of a child’s life: family, school, and community.

New data shows U.S. children still being exposed to serious violence and trauma

Two surveys released this week provide new data showing that children in the U.S. are still being exposed to serious levels of violence and childhood trauma.

The National Survey of Children’s Health (NHCS), closely aligned with the Center for Disease Control’s Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study, interviewed almost 100,000 people across the U.S. Surveyors asked participants about nine kinds of adverse experiences including physical abuse and witnessing domestic violence (read more about the scoring here). Almost half of the children were reported to have experienced at least one out of the nine adverse experiences. The survey also found that youth ages 12 -17 had experienced at least two or more types of childhood trauma that may impact their mental and physical health in adulthood.

An update on the National Survey on Children’s Exposure to Violence (NatSCEV) mirrored this information. Released Monday, the survey that interviewed more than 4,500 children, conducted by Finkelhor et al 2013[1] found that although the rate of violence against children has decreased since the first survey conducted in 2008, children are still regularly exposed to multiple types of violence and abuse.

Data on the rate of victimization remains unchanged 3 in 5 children are being physically assaulted every year and 10.1% are injured because of assault.  Additionally, more than 13% of the children were harmed by a parent or caregiver in the last year and sometimes that maltreatment included physical abuse. Additionally, 22% witnessed community and family violence. There were some declines in rates of exposure to things such as sibling assault and school bomb threats.

In light of this new data it is vital we remember that although children are often resilient in the face of violence and traumatic events, more must be done to respond to building that resilience. This means using studies like the NHCS and NatSCEV to nurture resilience through the provision of health-based evidence-based interventions and public awareness about the impact of trauma and exposure to violence.

Additionally, these studies highlight the need for continued efforts in collecting more detailed data, the creation of enhanced comprehensive tools to collect that data, and the need to correctly identify these experiences and their related effects.


[1] David Finkelhor, PhD; Heather A. Turner, PhD; Anne Shattuck, MA; Sherry L. Hamby, PhD JAMA Pediatr. 2013;():1-8. doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2013.42.

Promoting children’s mental health awareness: An Interview with Gregory Zimmerman

The Safe Start Center is participating in several Mental Health Awareness Week 2013 activities and today we’ve done a short question and answer with an expert in the areas of mental health and children’s exposure to violence (CEV) to promote the mental, emotional and behavioral health of children and youth.

Gregory M. Zimmerman, Ph.D. is a member of the faculty at Northeastern University’s School of Criminology and Criminal Justice. His research and teaching interests include an examination of the interrelationships among individual-level factors of crime, social context, and criminal offending. His other research involves juvenile justice, social sciences and sociological theory. He is also the co-author of a recent study published in the American Journal of Public Health, ‘Individual, family background, and contextual explanations of racial and ethnic disparities in youths’exposure to violence.’ You can read more about it here.

1. Why do you feel children’s exposure to violence and mental health issues are such important issues and how did you get involved with your work?

Exposure to violence is an all too common occurrence among children and adolescents that leads to an array of adverse mental health and behavioral consequences. My involvement with exposure to violence as an outcome began with the study of exposure to violence as a predictor of criminal behavior. After recognizing the link between violence exposure and violent offending, I moved to the study of exposure to violence as an outcome.

2. What do you think are some of the most valuable things you have learned through your work?

Exposure to violence is an amalgamation of experiencing and witnessing violence in the family, school, and community context. It is important to disaggregate exposure to violence in order to understand the different mechanisms leading to the different kids of violence exposure.

3. What do you think would have the most impact on improving the overall mental health of children at risk for exposure to violence?

Only by closing the gap between youths’ experiences with violence and parents’ perceptions of their children’s experiences can parents adequately aid in their children’s coping strategies.

4. How would you like to see research and policies shaped to address mental health awareness and exposure to violence?

I think that policies need to better address the link between what parents know and what children experience. I believe that one aspect of Safe Start is to work with schools to notify parents of incidents with violence at school. In addition, getting the school and the community to aid in addressing this problem by educating parents about how to best help their children cope with violence is key.

Safe Start in the Community: Worchester, Mass.

FB general cover

Throughout the month we will feature the 10 Safe Start Promising Approaches grantees and the work they’re doing in their communities to help children exposed to violence and their families.

Marie is a 28-year-old mother of two sons: Jasper age 3 and Dion age 6. Six months ago, Marie broke up with her boyfriend, the father of her sons. Marie’s relationship with her boyfriend was volatile, with physical abuse as well as verbal threats and name calling. Jasper and Dion witnessed much of this violence. Recently, Marie and her sons moved into a shelter.

Marie’s sons exhibit increasingly concerning behaviors. Dion “acts out,” screaming at his mother, hitting her and pulling her hair when angry. He is aggressive toward children in the shelter and in school and calls his teacher names. Jasper has begun to mimic Dion’s behaviors. Both children frequently ask for their father and appear distressed and confused about their family’s changes. Marie is overwhelmed by her children’s behavior and does not know how to respond.

As part of the START with Kids program, Marie’s case manager meets with Marie and conducts a child assessment. On the basis of the assessment results, both children appear to have some delays and challenges in social and emotional development, behavior, and learning, and Marie appears very distressed when she is with her children. The shelter case manager discusses the results with the shelter team, including the clinical child specialist, to make recommendations about next steps.

Marie and her case manager work together to develop a child service plan for each son to address past and current family stressors. The case manager helps Marie enroll Jasper in an Early Head Start program and establish ongoing monitoring by a pediatrician. She refers Dion for play therapy and mobilizes school-based supports, including an Individualized Education Plan for Dion.

Continue reading

DOJ moving forward with CEV recommendations

In an April 12 meeting with the Coordinating Council on Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, Attorney General Eric Holder described work to move forward with plans to prevent and reduce instances of childhood exposure to violence.

Defending Childhood Task Force at December report release.

The Defending Childhood Task Force released their report and 56 recommendations in December.

In December, Holder’s Defending Childhood Task Force issued a report and 56 recommendations to address this public health issue. Since then, Holder said he has enlisted officials from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention to get the ball rolling.

“Over the past several months, OJJDP’s leadership and staff members have begun to engage with a range of federal partners about how we might be responsive to the Task Force recommendations,” Holder said.

“At my request, Department leaders have developed near-and long-term strategies for how we can collaborate with our colleagues and counterparts in order to make a positive difference in four primary areas of activity:   raising public awareness, strengthening professional education and training, building knowledge through ongoing research, and increasing DOJ and federal coordination and capacity.

Over the next year, I am charging my DOJ colleagues to plan for the implementation of these recommendations.”

(Read Holder’s entire speech here.)

Currently, there are grantees working around the country on evidence-based programs and practices to address childhood exposure to violence under the Defending Childhood and Safe Start initiatives.

Last week, Holder also announced a new task force to address childhood exposure to violence in tribal communities, a response to the Defending Childhood Task Force recommendations.

The American Indian/Alaska Native Task Force on Children Exposed to Violence will be headed by Acting Associate Attorney General Tony West and will focus on:

  • Improving the identification and treatment of American Indian and Alaska Native children exposed to violence;
  • Supporting American Indian and Alaska Native communities and tribes as they define their own responses to this problem; and
  • Involving American Indian and Alaska Native youth in developing solutions.

“This is nothing less than a national crisis – with serious ramifications for the future of our country, and for the young men and women who will soon be called upon to build that future,” Holder told the Council.

“The cost of failure and inaction – both human and moral – is simply too high to contemplate.  The responsibility for turning back the tide of violence rests with each of the leaders – in this room and far beyond it – who has made a commitment to fighting back.  And that’s why, as long as we work together, support one another, and remain steadfast in our determination to make the difference our children need – I believe there’s no limit to what we’ll be able to achieve.”

Click here to read the Defending Childhood Task Force’s full report.

Guest Post: My experience as a child witness of domestic violence

FB Cover

By Millie Grgas

In the middle of Spring-cleaning this year, I found this old tape recording of my first trip to Paris with my mom when I was 5. Listening to that cassette reminds me of how lucky I am to have one parent who cared enough about me and my safety to leave her abuser.

My name is Millie Grgas and I am a survivor and child witness of domestic violence.

No one can tell that right off the bat, though. I am a genuinely happy and well-adjusted individual. One of the most traumatizing things about violence is that even if it is physically destructive, what lasts long after the scars on your skin fade are the emotional and psychological fractures. Those are things that I have to work on every day.

I try to emphasize that abuse is something that happened to me; it does not define me. That said, I know that it has definitely affected me and my outlook on life. I know that it has certainly affected my relationship with the opposite gender.

I grew up always referring to my abuser as “stupid,” never by his actual name. The thought of calling him dad or even “my father” just didn’t feel right. My mom and grandparents never tried to change the way I referred to him, because as they were told by my court-mandated therapists, it was a normal reaction. Not necessarily a healthy one, looking back on it, but these family-therapy sessions were pretty new technologies back when VAWA was just in its beginning phases in creating resources for women. (Childhood trauma was still a burgeoning field of practice.)

Continue reading

%d bloggers like this: