Violence prevention in the wake of Sandy Hook

violence preventionContrary to what many people believe, mass shooters and other killers aren’t born, they’re created.

Violence is preventable, though maybe not totally avoidable.  As shown by a growing body of scientific research, interventions that address the underlying causes of violent behavior and victimization are effective in preventing new instances of violence. There are programs and strategies that, if implemented correctly, reliably and significantly reduce youth crime.

Policy makers, practitioners and families that are committed to reducing violence must invest in potentially effective practices to the extent there are means of determining effectiveness. Making use of evidence-based interventions already at hand could potentially contribute to a reduction in violence and save billions of dollars by preventing or mitigating factors that would otherwise require expensive interventions after the fact.

To prevent violence and reduce its consequences it is necessary to understand the causes of violence. A major finding of national and international reports on violence is that no single factor explains why one individual, family, community or society is more or less likely to experience violence. Instead, it shows that violence is rooted in the interaction of factors ranging from the biological to the political. An ecological approach to prevention of violence targets the categories of risk factors for violence at four interacting levels: the individual, relational, community context and societal factors

Approaching violence as preventable is a basic tenet of the public health approach, which includes four strategies:

  • Statistically describing and monitoring the extent of the problem; to identify the groups and communities at risk.
  • Identifying and understanding the factors that place people at risk for violence – to assess which factors may also be amenable to intervention.
  • Developing and evaluating interventions to reduce these risks, and
  • Implementing and applying widely the measures that are found to work.

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Sandy Hook Elementary shooting: A month later

Sandy HookThe tragic acts of violence at Sandy Hook Elementary School have shaken the entire nation.  It pushed all of us to come together to share our repulsion and grief. It led us to talk about how to move forward in light of this tragic event, how to prevent violence before it happens, and how to create peaceful communities with thriving youth.

Inclinations to intensify security in schools are being reconsidered.  Parents and teachers, however, have warned us that we should not turn our schools into fortresses.  Other emphases have focused on asking whether the shooter could have been identified ahead of time, the presence of mental illness and identifying the characteristics of mass shooters that can shed a light on his motivation for the heinous act.  These concerns highlight the need for more mental health support resources and threat assessment teams in every school.  The goal is for people to seek assistance when they recognize that someone is troubled and requires help. Effective prevention cannot wait until there is a gunman in the school parking lot.

This time the tragedy took place in a school. But plenty of shootings occur in communities throughout the United States every day.  Few of them occur in schools and though they are especially tragic, children are safer in schools than in almost any other place, including for many, their own homes.  Data from the National Survey of Children Exposed to Violence shows that children’s exposure to violence is pervasive in the United States and that it has an accumulated effect. If a child is exposed to one type of violence he/she is more likely to be experience other types of victimization. The economic costs of violence are high, but the social costs, even though less quantifiable, are even higher.  Evidence suggests that children and youth exposed to violence in their home and communities are at greater risk of developing physical, mental and socially negative outcomes.

Violence is preventable and there is a strong and growing evidence base to support that fact.  However, because prevention occurs well before the violence would occur — and if it is successful, violence doesn’t occur at all— activities may not be recognized as violence prevention at all.

The nation’s approach to violence has largely been to wait to act until a violent event occurs that causes considerable harm.  All too often, opportunities are missed to use evidence-based approaches to prevent the occurrence, establish building blocks for healthy development in all young people and limit the family, environment and community violence that increase risks.

Check back with us tomorrow as we address some of the questions many have had in the wake of this tragic shooting.

Violence Prevention: The public health approach

Check out these headlines. What do they say to you?

2 Dead, 3 Injured in Overnight Shootings

UIC Student Knocked Out During Robbery Near Campus

Teen sexually assaulted on way to school on West Side

Set in the backdrop of suburban Chicago, these news stories represent the ongoing and increasing problem of exposure to violence.

Now that we know there is a serious problem what might communities and individuals do about it?

Earlier this month, the mayor went on the defensive about a surge of recent homicides [in Chicago]. Between the start of 2012 and April 1, Chicago Police recorded 120 homicides, a 60 percent spike over the 75 murders during the same period in 2010 and 2011

Well one solution is to look at preventing violence exposure using a public health approach. This approach is a clear framework to help understand, identify, strategize, and disseminate prevention interventions. The chart below summarizes this framework.

To really get a full understanding of the approach, please see the Center for Disease Control’s comprehensive summary of the Public Health Approach to Violence Prevention.

The most important thing to remember when understanding and learning this approach is that it takes everyone’s participation for it to be a success. There are several examples out there of programs that actively and successfully demonstrate using this approach to prevent and reduce the impact of exposure to violence.

The Safe Start Initiative follows this form of approach. We’ve identified the problem of exposure to violence and know the risks surrounding it. The Center now works on the ongoing development and dissemination of strategies and materials that raise awareness and prevention efforts.

The Public Health Leadership Initiative is yet another example of a program following this approach. They work through partnerships to assist state agencies who work to protect the lives of children and families to prevent child maltreatment.

An even more recent example is the National Summit on Preventing Youth Violence. This annual event is a meeting of programs and individuals to describe, identify, and strategize ways to prevent the crisis of youth and gang violence in the U.S.

These are just a few of the programs/organizations that use a public health approach to prevent violence and its consequences. Violence exposure is a serious problem, but the public health approach is a way to help identify and prevent it from happening further!

If you’d like a detailed and comprehensive list of resources and information about this topic check out the World Health Organization’s Violence publications and resources.

Checkout it out now! mPreventViolence: Communication and Technology for Violence Prevention

Checkout the live webcast now! For updates about the workshop, follow @theIOM on Twitter using the hashtag#mPreventViolence.

Universal Children’s Day

Picture in your mind, if you will the last image you saw of a child. What was that image, sad or happy? What did the picture make you want to do? What memories did it trigger for you? Perhaps the picture was of a happy child.

Now think of the last picture you saw of a child from a different country. What does that bring to mind? Maybe, it’s a picture of a starving child or children that have witnessed or experienced violence through trafficking, disease, war, and exploitation.

Is that picture of the American child completely true? Are all of our nation’s children always happy, healthy, and vibrant? Or, do some of them really mirror those of children from abroad?

Keeping this thought in mind, the Safe Start Center would like to highlight a very important awareness day. On December 14, 1954 the United Nations General Assembly declared the observance of a Universal Children’s Day. November 20th was inaugurated as the official day because of the adoption of the UN Declaration of the Rights of the Child, commemorating the importance of children’s welfare as a worldwide truth. Though the United States was an active participant in the writing of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, it has not yet been able to ratify it, but many American programs like Safe Start are working to promote the importance of protecting children and their welfare. When writing the We the Children: End-decade review of the follow-up to the World Summit for Children Report of the Secretary-General (2001) it quotes a phrase at the heart of the declaration:

“We were all children once. And we all share the desire for the well-being of our children, which has always been and will continue to be the most universally cherished aspiration of humankind.”

While promotion of children’s welfare is happening across the nation, the state of America’s children is still grim. According to a recent report from the BBC America, America’s Child Death Shame, a picture of a perfectly happy American child is not an accurate one. The report highlights that every five hours a child dies from abuse or neglect in the United States. The importance of understanding that children are at risk is also emphasized by Polyvictimization: Children’s Exposure to Multiple Types of Violence, Crime, and Abuse, a new study by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) that describes polyvictimization,  victimization through exposure to many kinds of violence. It tells us that at minimum, 1 in 10 children are exposed to violence in their lifetime, and once a child has been exposed, they are at higher risk of being repeat victims. Most important of all, it repeats that this variety of exposure is far more harmful than multiple exposures from a single source.

The Safe Start Center’s mission is directly targeted toward the ideas promoted by the UN Declaration of the Rights of the Child. We do so through the promotion of awareness and prevention of both polyvictimization and overall exposure to violence in children and their families. We work to support the work of clinicians, advocates, communities, and caregivers to help raise awareness about the importance of children as the future and their right to a high quality of life. We have a variety of resources available to help caregivers, practitioners, and the public tackle the problem of violence at home, in schools, and the community. Just a few of these resources are:

The Safe Start Center Trauma Informed Care Tipsheets

These resources provides tips and insight for how parents & caregivers, child welfare staff, early childhood providers, men & fathers, domestic violence and homeless shelters, teachers, and agencies working with immigrant families can identify and care for children and youth exposed to a single or multiple types of violence.

Resources for Families and Caregivers

This page also gives a variety of online resources and websites that can help parents and caregivers better understand their children, their mental health, and how to help them cope with any new situations they might face.

Online Resources for Teens and Young Adults

The above page is targeted toward youth, providing online resources and books that raise awareness about the dangers of violence and tips for safety in school or in dating.

So, today on Universal Children’s Day, we need to remember each child across our nation who is exposed to hurt and violence. So please join us at the Safe Start Center by renewing the commitment to working to ensure that all children have the chance grow up safely and without fear.

Photo Credits:

30937aza3qkjeac Michal Marcol.jpg

5513436ygksa7y5 SteveMiles.jpg

Flowergirl earlyadvantage.jpg

Sad child2 Stuart Miles.jpg

Sad child Arvid Balaraman.jpg

Bullies and the Bullied: Stopping the Cycle

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Why Some Kids Bully: Personal Reflection from a Recovering Bully

Bullying and Jenni. How does my story reflect or fit into the theme this week. Honestly, it’s been a question I have been grappling with all month. Numbers show and personal stories reflect the high levels of prevalence and effects of bullying on children and youth. But what about those who “cause” the damage? What about the bullies? Why do they bully? What’s their side of the story? Is there something to do for them?

When reflecting on my childhood, I think all too often I was the bully. I am a tall girl who grew much faster (and more) than other girls and boys my age and felt out of place. I also often didn’t know how to express the hurt and emotions in me so I internalized them and then would explode. One incident I vividly recall was when I put my hands around another girl’s neck because she had been mean to me and others and was still well liked. I felt it was not fair that I wasn’t liked as much even though I tried to be nice and talked to everyone. So in my fourth grade mind, I just wanted it to stop. I wanted her to stop taking my friends. I wanted to stop her making fun of me. And so I lashed out physically because I did not know how to handle the hurt. I made her stop.

Fast-forward seven years to when I am a junior in high school. I loved my friends but often their good natured teasing cut deeper than they knew. Over the years, I had learned to stuff down my hurt and just laugh along. Then a teacher asked my mom if I was all right at a parent-teacher meeting. He went on to say that he realized that other kids didn’t realize how sensitive I was and wanted to make sure I was okay from the teasing in class. When my mom told me this, I lost it. I had never before had someone other than my family recognize or validate my hurt. For a long time, I have been deeply ashamed of moments like the one in fourth grade. I’ll always wonder just what was going through my head that I would physically lash out at someone like that. My pain does not excuse my behavior, but I still sometimes reflect and wonder who I would have been had I not had a loving family at home to help both support and correct me. How could I have turned out if my bullying behaviors where not addressed in a “tough love” way?

You see, even bullies have scars from what they have done and sometimes what has been done to them.  We need to remember that bullies are children too and that in their actions are messages and meanings we as adults need to pay attention to. Could that bully be aggressive because he has issues with his self-image? Does she feel like this is the role she’s been given, that a bully is all she can be? Is this how he experiences relationships in his home? What is the intention behind his actions? Part of the solution to bullying must include bullies and helping them change behavior as much as it is about stopping the behavior.

Below you’ll find some interesting interviews, resources, and stories about other bullies. Though circumstances are different and there are exceptions, the main storyline is they bullied because they felt attacked. This does not excuse the wrong and hurtful actions done by bullies. However, we need to remember this in our dialogue on how to help the bullied and stop bullying.

Here are some more background articles about bullies and some video clips from bullies. Please comment and/or share you story with us!!

Bully Boys and Bully Girls

Cruel, senseless bullying needs strong opposition

How to help kids deal with bullying, whether they are targets or inflicting pain

The Reason Children become Bullies

Bully Richard Gale Interview (Bully of Casey Heynes)

Tara Bank’s Bully Interview

Why I bullied

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