What a New President Needs to Know About Violence Prevention

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A 12 year old South Carolina boy was shot and killed while trick or treating on October 31.  Members of his family were shot and injured.  Werner Lippe, a 66 year old jeweler, has confessed to killing his wife and disposing of the body.  Four men have been charged with the deadly shooting of two college students in Arkansas.  The US still has a problem with violence that needs solutions.  Law Enforcement,  Courts, and the Criminal Justice system provide us with the essential laws, boundaries and protection.

On the other end of the spectrum, we need to look at prevention and treatment.  Some percentage of adult violence begins when the perpetrators are young children living in violent and/or neglectful homes.  I believe all parents want to be good parents, but may not have the skills they need to cope with the stress of raising a family.  These skills may not have developed because they grew up in homes where the wrong skills or few skills were taught.  So we have generations of families that need help to learn the skills they need to raise and support a strong family.  How do we fix that?

One proven prevention program is an early childhood program with parent involvement, such as Head Start.  Head Start has been around forever, but it is important to have parent involvement so that the good information and child care practices are carried home for the parents’ use, as well.   The second is the home visiting program developed by Olds.  In this program specially trained nurses, professionals, or para-professionals visit the homes of any new mother and take the family child development and child care information, support, modeling, age appropriate toys, and enrichment activities.     One Healthy Families Program in Maryland has demonstrated improved family health and knowledge of child care among participants.

There are many effective school based programs, also, but it is important to involve the families when possible.  Six years of research on a school based mental health program in Maryland demonstrated improved mental health and reduced behavior problems and absenteeism of students who participated in the program when compared to those not participating in the program.  School based mental health programs can be established by shifting paradigms, not necessarily by increasing the need for funds.  By moving the mental health clinic from the community to the school through cooperative agreements, follow-up for services was also increased. 

A juvenile justice program in Maryland is taking the approach of supporting strengths and building skills in the youth in care and the family simultaneously.  The community and the institutional teams communicate regularly.  The youth and the family are part of the treatment team, as well.  All team members have goals that they agree to meet.  This program is being used for one youth and family at this time.  This youth and family have shown remarkable progress in all skill areas compared to 4 previous years of little progress in reducing aggression of the youth.   With changes in the funding streams, this program could be expanded to treat more youth and families cost effectively by reducing residential stays and increasing the youth and family’s chances for success when they reunite.

These are just 4 programs that can cost effectively prevent future violence by this generation of youth.  There are others, as well.  This would seem to be a good alternative to increasing the number of prison beds and continuing the intergenerational suffering of those who need family support and services.  Community services to these families are a fraction of the cost of incarceration.  I hope the new President will consider supporting violence prevention programs.

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