Violence is just one part of childhood trauma. So why are we focusing so much on childhood violence?

Awhack

Whac-A-Mole players (photo by Laura)

Many people and organizations focus on preventing violence with the belief that if our society can stop violence against children, then most childhood trauma will be eradicated.

However, research that has emerged over the last 20 years clearly shows that focusing primarily on violence prevention – physical and sexual abuse, in particular – doesn’t eliminate the trauma that children experience, and won’t even prevent further violence.

“Although violence can beget violence, it’s hardly the only cause of violence,” says Dr. Vincent Felitti, co-principal investigator of the CDC-Kaiser Permanente Adverse Childhood Experiences Study (ACE Study), groundbreaking epidemiological research that showed a direct link between 10 types of childhood trauma and the adult onset of chronic disease, mental illness, violence and being a victim of violence, among many other consequences.

“Basically there’s lots of other ways,” he says. “Humiliating people. Isolating people. Verbally provoking them. All of those have potential for producing violence in response.”

In addition, violence can provoke nonviolent behavior that can be just as damaging as violence.

In other words, childhood trauma does not equal only violence.

The many types of childhood trauma

Violence is just one among many types of childhood trauma. The ACE Study found that violence is not more – or less — damaging than divorce, living with a parent who’s an alcoholic, being yelled at nearly every day of your childhood, or emotional neglect. Just as important, it rarely happens alone. If a child is experiencing violence, there’s usually some other type of trauma happening, too.

In fact, the entire approach to preventing violence against children – by focusing on only one type of trauma, by focusing on the child and ignoring the parents or caregivers, by ignoring the toxic stress imposed on the child and family by traumatizing systems – is so outdated that pioneers in this arena compare our current approach to a never-ending game of Whac-A-Mole.

They propose a completely different approach, one that focuses on creating and growing resilient children, families, organizations, systems and communities. It’s an approach that moves from blame, shame and punishment, to understanding, nurturing and healing.

The ACE Study is part of what’s being called a “unified science” of human development that recasts our understanding of how to solve our most intractable problems, such as poverty and homelessness, as well as childhood trauma. It comprises five areas of research:

  • the epidemiology of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs),
  • the neurobiology of toxic stress (the brain),
  • the biomedical consequences of toxic stress (the body),
  • the epigenetic consequences of toxic stress (passing from parent to child),
  • and resilience research.

Others call this “the theory of everything” in human development or NEAR science (neurobiology, epigenetics, ACEs, resilience). I just call it ACEs science.

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A working ranch integrates ACEs and animals into treatment for teens

HorseCU Although it’s too soon to tell if integrating trauma-informed and resilience-building practices based on adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) sciences is making a difference for the teens living at Home on the Range, a residential treatment center in Sentinel Butte, ND, it’s made a huge difference for the people who work there. They now understand that kids aren’t born bad.

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Five-minute video primer about Adverse Childhood Experiences Study

Many people have been asking for a short video that explains the CDC-Kaiser Permanente Adverse Childhood Experiences Study, the groundbreaking epidemiological research that revealed the link between childhood trauma and the adult onset of chronic disease, mental illness, violence and being a victim of violence.

KPJR Films, which came out with Paper Tigers last year and Resilience this year, put together this wonderful five-minute overview of the ACE Study. It was edited by Jen Bradwell.

KPJR Films’ executive producer is Karen Pritzker. Its director-producer is James Redford.

What age, cognitive disability mean for Brendan Dassey of ‘Making a Murderer’

Amaking

By Courtney Knight, ChronicleOfSocialChange.org

If you have not seen Netflix’s breakout documentary series “Making a Murderer,” there is a good chance every other person you know has.

The series follows the intellectually challenged 16-year-old Brendan Dassey and his uncle as they are ushered through the Wisconsin criminal justice system. Brendan’s intellectual or cognitive disabilities have been mentioned numerous times, but how his age and disability mix with interrogation techniques and self-advocacy within the system have not been explored.

Public outrage occurred over the suggestive, and at times directive, methods police used to obtain Brendan’s confession later used in court.

Brendan, who did not even know the word “inconsistent” when police used it, is reported by the entertainment news site Vulture to have an IQ ranging from 69-73, which in many other states could make him mentally incompetent to stand trial.

This cognitive disability is not to be confused with mental illness, which may impact half of incarcerated adults and can be treated by medication or therapy. Brendan is also just one of almost 400,000 inmates with cognitive disabilities currently imprisoned in the United States.

A December 14, 2015 report from the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics shows just how “consistent” the incarceration of cognitively disabled individuals is in the United States, identifying that roughly a quarter of detained Americans struggle with a cognitive disability.

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Trauma-informed courts can help the vulnerable

AcourtroomWritten by: Alicia Summers, Ph.D., National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges

The parens patriae doctrine grants power to the state to intervene and protect children and other vulnerable individuals who are not able to protect themselves. In effect, the state serves as a “parent” to the person to ensure their needs are met.  With our ever-increasing understanding of adolescent brain development, neuroscience, psychology, and human development generally, there is a growing recognition that these needs are more complex than the basics of food, shelter, and safety. Children experiencing adversity often require assistance to meet developmental needs and tasks, with a focus on promoting resilience and well-being so that they have the same opportunities for positive outcomes as youth who have not been involved with the court system.

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Miracle at Pennsylvania’s State Correctional Institution Forest

Cindy SanfordJuan (name changed), convicted of aggravated assault at 21, has been in solitary for five years. He has seen and experienced it all: brutal cell extractions, hunger strikes, flooded pods and endless hours spent screaming at his cell door.

By the time I met him, he’d racked up over 80 misconducts in numerous prisons and earned the enmity of most of the officers forced to deal with him. Hardly your model inmate.

Yet from our very first visit, I was struck by the humility and sadness in his eyes. Somehow, despite his “bad-boy” reputation, I sensed there was more to him, something worth saving.

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8 things judges need to know about teen dating violence

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By the Hon. Marshall Murray
Judge of the Circuit Court of Milwaukee
Member of the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges

One of the most important duties for any court system is to ensure that youth in the community are protected. As the former Presiding Judge of the Milwaukee Children’s Court and Presiding Judge of the Milwaukee County Domestic Violence Courts, I have seen many young people who were survivors of teen dating violence. They included children who were both male and female, heterosexual and LGBTQ, and from every ethnic background imaginable. It was, and is, very sad to me that while these children are supposed to be focusing on the challenge of adolescence, they were instead grappling

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