Children who are exposed to violence at home or on the streets can learn that violence is a means of communication, problem-solving, or self-defense. This effect of normalization can feed violence itself.
Comprehensive approaches have emerged to combat the cycle: In Philadelphia, a groundbreaking program seeks to treat assault victims for trauma. In Memphis, a survey found that 37 percent of adults in the county during their youth had witnessed someone being shot or stabbed. Research on ACEs has, says a public defender, “given us a new common language when we’re advocating on behalf of kids in front of the courts that helps explain some of the behaviors that might not seem understandable if you’re just looking at it without understanding the history of this child’s life.” In St. Louis, responses include parenting classes to help families deal with stress;, education for school staff and students to recognize signs of trauma and stress, encouraging wellness, and prenatal programs to relieve stress in pregnant women.
Research on these issues is embryonic, but it’s developing quickly. Efforts like the ones in Philadelphia and Memphis show early promise, but it’s important to follow them over time, both because such programs often show results in years rather than months and because you’ll want to establish that any impact is more than ephemeral. Ask: What are the concrete goals of a program, and how would one measure the positive effects of, for example, a wellness program for parents? If parents are dropping out of a parenthood program, why? What’s the science behind interventions, and if the overall environment in a neighborhood or family remains violent, can interventions be lasting and productive?