There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.
If there is one axiom that virtually all scholars and professionals in the field of early child care agree on it is that violence in the home and community of children causes early trauma that can affect them throughout their entire lives.
However, most of us are unaware of just how prevalent this violence and early trauma is in our country. Futures Without Violence, a non-profit group that advances programs to end violence against women and children, reports on a recent U.S. Department of Justice survey finding widespread exposure of children to “violence, crime, or abuse within the past year, either directly (as victims) or indirectly (as witnesses) — many in their own homes.”
We also know that, as recent scientific studies have shown, the child’s brain can be shaped and reshaped by positive and negative experiences. “The young brain, however, is malleable and we can reverse the adverse effects of toxic stress.
The question, therefore, is twofold. What can we, as a society and as individuals do to prevent it? And how can we reverse the effects of early violence in those children already exposed to it?
First, there is one fact, universally recognized by social scientists but most often ignored by politicians, that while there are a number of factors that account for domestic violence that cause trauma in children, the prime factor for this is families and children living in economic insecurity and outright poverty. (For a discussion of the social costs of childhood poverty, see Combatting Child Poverty Affects All of Us in the Policies and Politics section of this website)
At a meeting in Washington, DC last June of local and state leaders who are concerned with the problem of childhood trauma, a strong consensus developed around the need for a nationally coordinated program to deal with the crisis. They agreed n the importance of expanding interstate cooperation across state systems. To be effective, they emphasized that addressing the problem must be done within the context of families and communities since this is where the childhood experience takes place and policy makers must develop programs that reflect the voices and needs of individual communities.
They also felt a strong need to expand definitions of violence to include systemic violence that disproportionately affects communities of color, LBGT youth and other groups that have suffered discrimination.
(Again, we urge you to go to Combatting Child Poverty Affects All of Us in the Policies and Politics section on this website for a look at the effects of the costs to children and to society of childhood trauma caused by poverty.)