There is a new effort to prevent childhood violence, and address the needs of America’s youngest victims according to a report by Dr. Nadine Burke Harris and Esta Soler.
The new push comes at a time when violence against children in America is at an all-time high. According to a report by the U.S. Attorney General’s Defending Childhood Task Force, children are experiencing or witnessing violence on an alarming scale. Approximately two out of three children in the U.S. are exposed to violence, with as many as one-in-10 experiencing multiple layers of violence, the report said.
Health care professionals have amassed a wealth of knowledge about violence prevention as well as how to help children exposed to violence and developed a plan of action.
The plan calls for a national effort to make homes, schools, and communities safer, supportive, and healthier places for American children. To achieve this goal, health care professionals are insisting on a “change in public policies to support prevention and healing for children and families, using key policy shifts such as health care reform, the Violence Against Women Act and the Victims of Crime Act,” according to Harris and Soler’s article.
The next step would be to set up routine screening programs to identify children who have been exposed to violence and to “establish prevention programs within the health care system, schools, and youth organizations to protect children from future violence” the report said.
The plan also calls for a change in spending. Monies spent on punitive programs such as juvenile justice facilities would be re-invested in programs that can help children heal and thrive. The programs would keep troubled kids safe in school and under the guidance of responsible adults.
Finally, education about the effects of violence is essential to the plan’s success. “Make violence a public issue and educate all Americans about this problem and the role each can play to ensure our children are safe,” the report said.
Violence can occur in any community, and there are many forms. Sexual, physical, and verbal abuse are among the most prevalent. Violence can occur in or out of the home, against friends, family members, and innocent bystanders. It is important to note that experiencing the violence first hand is not the only way a child can be affected; witnessing violence done to others can be just as traumatic.
“With their brains and bodies still being formed, children are uniquely vulnerable to the impact of toxic stress on their physical, mental, and emotional health”
Children exposed to violence are at risk for a lifetime of disciplinary, learning, and health deficiencies. “With their brains and bodies still being formed, children are uniquely vulnerable to the impact of toxic stress on their physical, mental, and emotional health” the Bay view Child Health Center concluded.
The human body responds to violence by producing hormones intended to fuel the fight or flight response. The body’s emergency response system could save a child’s life in the face of violence.
However, constant stimulation of the body’s emergency response system can damage your health and well-being the Bay view Child Health Center said. Examples of the health risk include heart and lung disease, as well as hypertension and neurological disorders. Without intervention, “many of our children will experience lifelong consequences from exposure to violence and the toxic stress it causes” Harris and Soler wrote.
“We must not allow violence to deny any child the right to grow up safe and secure,” according to Harris and Soler. “Our journey is not complete until all our children, from the streets of Detroit to the hills of Appalachia to the quiet lanes of Newtown, know that they are cared for and cherished and always safe from harm” (President Barack Obama, Second Inaugural Address, Jan. 21, 2013)