Defending Childhood Recommendations: Identification

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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.

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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Defending Childhood Task Force Recommendations: A closer look

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.

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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Impact of Exposure to Violence on Development

Other than the role of “every person, every day,” this CEV Week we’re focusing on the impact of exposure to violence on children’s mental, physical and emotional development. To that end, we developed a new resource providing ways to prevent and address the impact of exposure to violence on a child’s development—from early childhood through adolescence.

Devel chartThe Impact of Exposure to Violence on Stages of Development chart provides an overview of the developmental process and ways to help children successfully achieve developmental milestones even in situations where violence and toxic stress intrude in the child’s life.

A developmental approach is based on the concept that as children grow and mature they are faced with emotional and physical tasks they must master before moving along to the next stage. The tasks build upon one another: a toddler learns to explore his world, which provides the foundation for school-aged children to make friends; this ability, in turn, allows an adolescent tries to form a separate identity and become more independent from his family.

When exposed to violence or other traumatic events, a child’s energy is diverted and they have less capacity to master the developmental challenges on which they are currently focused at their stage of development. We know that many children rebound from traumatic experiences and continue to achieve expected developmental milestones.

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Safe Start in the Community: El Paso, Texas

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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.

At age 13, Jessica has experienced community violence most of her life. With Sandra, her mother, she lived at her grandmother’s in a very dangerous neighborhood of Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, a border town adjacent to El Paso, Texas. One morning, Jessica awoke to gunshots and found out her neighbor had been killed. Soon after, Jessica’s brother was kidnapped and released only after Sandra paid a ransom.

This extreme exposure to trauma and violence prompts Sandra to move to El Paso, Texas, where she enrolls Jessica in school. Although Sandra feels safer, Jessica exhibits anxiety, irritability, fear, loneliness, and loss of trust. Because of the dramatic change of behavior, Sandra looks for help for Jessica. St. Peter and Paul Catholic Church refers Sandra to Aliviane, Inc., Behavioral Health Clinic where a case manager from the Safe Start program assesses Sandra and Jessica and refers them for services under the Safe Start program.

Safe Start case managers conduct weekly groups using the “Dando Fuerza a la Familia” curriculum. The curriculum covers communication styles of Mexican and Mexican-American families living in the border regions of the United States and focuses on the types of violence families experience within the family system and in the community, as well as the conflict between drug cartels in Mexican border states. Sandra participates in the parent training program while Jessica attends the children’s social skills training program. After an hour each week in their separate programs, Sandra and Jessica come together for the family training session and practice the new skills they learned.

Sandra and Jessica are comfortable in the program because the case managers use Mexican colloquial Spanish and they seem to understand Sandra and Jessica’s background and culture. After the 14 weeks of group sessions, the Safe Start program continues to provide case management services to the family for 1 year from the time of enrollment. Jessica now smiles, participates more in school, has friends, and feels a sense of belonging.

Aliviane, Inc.

Behavioral Health Clinic
7722 North Loop, Suite 5
El Paso, TX 79915


Adapts interventions by providing special sensitivity to the strengths and stresses facing Mexican American families. Helps families decrease behavior problems in their high-risk children by strengthening family functioning and relationships, and building better communication. Works with children to improve protective factors and with parents to improve their child-rearing and relationship skills.  Allows families to practice skills and strengthen relationships.

Target Population:

Children and their parents with demonstrated exposure to trauma

Age Range:



  • Strengthening Families Program with a cultural adaptation called “Dando Fuerza a la Familia”*
  • Case Management

*Evidence-based or promising practice

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!

Engaging boys in teen dating violence prevention

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Statistics say one in 10 high school students report being purposely physically hurt by a boyfriend/girlfriend. Preventing teen dating violence and treating victims involves everyone, including parents, educators and peers. More and more, engaging men and boys in teen dating violence prevention is becoming an important piece of the prevention puzzle.

Safe Start Center Director Elena Cohen answers a few questions about how best to engage men and boys and why it’s important.

Why is it important to engage boys in teen dating violence prevention?

Teen dating violence is a significant public health concern in the U.S.  Although there are a growing number of legal and social services for teens, we don’t have effective resources for helping men learn to recognize and take responsibility for their patterns of hurtful behavior.  Some of these men have been exposed to violence themselves, and as a result, they feel the emotional, physical and mental impacts of this violence.  Often men try not to pay attention to their pain and believe that an admission of difficulties is showing weakness and a proof of not being a “real man.” Sometimes violence is an attempt to cope with hidden pain.

Violence prevention requires a change in the social conditions that impact the community which make violence normal and acceptable. Men and boys receive, sort through, and enforce messages about relationships, violence and power every day. Men and boys also send powerful messages about relationships, violence, and power that affect members of society. Generally speaking, men have greater access to resources and opportunities to influence large social structures and institutions. They, as a result, play an important role to prevent teen dating violence

What ways/strategies have you found effective in reaching boys about teen dating violence prevention?

Young men are trained to be masculine in a way that leads to confusion, repression, isolation and domination. The understanding of what it takes to be a successful man is going through big changes. Teenagers are being called upon to develop new ways of relating to their emotions, their dating partners, even their work. This can easily leave young men feeling confused, disoriented and overwhelmed.

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2012 in review

WordPress crunched some numbers for us and came up with this cool look at our blog performance in 2012.

Thanks to each of you who made up these visits, comments, etc. We look forward to giving you much more in 2013!

Here’s an excerpt:

600 people reached the top of Mt. Everest in 2012. This blog got about 12,000 views in 2012. If every person who reached the top of Mt. Everest viewed this blog, it would have taken 20 years to get that many views.

Click here to see the complete report.

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