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"Changing Minds" about Children's Exposure to Violence

By: Eileen M. Garry, Acting Administrator, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention

We all hear stories about inner city violence, the abuse and victimization suffered by youth in rural areas, and children who have been bullied in school or online. Few of us, however, are fully aware of the prevalence of this violence and the lasting impact it has on our children. While crime rates nationally remain at historically low levels, too many children in our country still experience violence.

Over 60 percent of children and youth were exposed to violence, crime or abuse in 2013, according to the OJJDP-funded National Survey of Children's Exposure to Violence conducted in 2014, the most recent data available. Exposure to violence can limit children's potential and increase their likelihood of becoming involved in the juvenile or criminal justice system. These children are often more likely to struggle in school, develop a substance use disorder, and suffer from depression, anxiety and posttraumatic stress disorder.

A caring adult is critical in reversing the harm done when a child is exposed to violence. In the Changing Minds campaign, which we launched in partnership with Futures Without Violence, we highlight five key healing gestures that adults can use in working with children. Adults can celebrate, comfort, collaborate with, listen to and inspire children to help them overcome the trauma caused by violence.

The Changing Minds campaign not only identifies solutions to help children heal, it also educates the public about the problem of children's exposure to violence.

By Changing Minds about the prevalence, urgency and impact of children's exposure to community or family violence, the campaign helps change the public's perception. Instead of labeling children as angry, bad, withdrawn or acting out, children exposed to violence are seen as kids who have been hurt and need our help. The campaign also motivates adults who regularly interact with children in school, community and healthy settings to be caring, concerned and alert to signs of trouble.

These healing gestures can be incredibly effective. Scientific research shows how negative and positive experiences in life impact a child's brain. While trauma leads children to feel more anxious, fearful and impulsive, positive experiences help children develop better reasoning skills, self-control of their behavior and the ability to plan ahead. We can't always prevent a child's exposure to violence, but we can help children heal and thrive using techniques and solutions in the Changing Minds campaign.

I want everyone in the nation to understand their role in helping children. Please visit ChangingMindsNow.org to learn about important thoughts, research and resources.

April is Child Abuse Prevention Month. To learn more about how we work to support children exposed to violence and what you can do to help, please visit our webpage Trauma's Impact on Children Exposed to Violence and subscribe to our news services - JUVJUST and OJJDP News @ a Glance.

Date Published: April 21, 2017