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.”
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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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