Now Viewing: Violence and Trauma

Violence and the Media in 2014: Q&A with Lori Dorfman

Dec 18, 2014, 5:59 PM, Posted by Eric Antebi

Cease Fire A Chicago bumper sticker.

A culture of violence is the antithesis to a Culture of Health. As Risa Lavizzo-Mourey recently said in a speech to the American Public Health Association, “We will never be a healthy nation, if we continue to be a violent one.”

Violence is always in the news. But 2014 saw several high profile stories about violence dominating news cycles, including major stories about child abuse (Adrian Peterson), intimate partner violence (Ray Rice), sexual assault on college campus, and, of course, the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner.

Because media coverage influences the social and political response to violence in America, I wanted to hear from Lori Dorfman, who directs the Berkeley Media Studies Group. She has spent decades monitoring how the media cover violence and other public health issues, helping public health advocates work with journalists, and helping journalists improve their coverage. The following is an excerpt of my interview with her.

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Bringing Brain Science to the Front Lines of Care

Nov 4, 2014, 5:34 PM, Posted by Jane Isaacs Lowe, Martha Davis

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The brain is an exquisitely sensitive organ—so sensitive that, as recent advances in brain science show us, children who are exposed to violence, abuse, or extreme poverty can suffer the aftereffects well into adulthood. They are more likely to develop cancer or heart disease as they age, for example.

But how to translate these findings into practices and policies that can strengthen families and children? How do caregivers help traumatized children and their families cope with adversity? How can the science be applied to what teachers, doctors, social workers, and others on the front lines do every day? And how should the science affect whole systems, so that every person, at every level, can do their part to help children and families thrive?

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Supporting Families to Succeed

Jun 30, 2014, 9:31 AM, Posted by Jane Isaacs Lowe, Martha Davis

ACEs Billboard Version 2 Mobile

It has been more than 15 years since the Centers for Disease Control published the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACES) study. What we learned from that study, and then subsequent research, is that sustained exposure to toxic stress and adverse childhood experiences—including abuse, neglect, neighborhood violence and chronic poverty—without the support of an engaged supportive parent or adult caretaker, can have serious extended effects on children’s subsequent development and success in life. This stress, without intervention, can lead to a lifetime of poorer health, including chronic diseases in adulthood, such as heart disease and diabetes.

In 2012, the American Academy of Pediatrics published a policy statement calling on pediatricians to become leaders in an effort to decrease children’s exposure to toxic stress and to mitigate its negative effects. They acknowledged how much science had taught us about how our environment affects our “learning capacities, adaptive behaviors, lifelong physical and mental health, and adult productivity.” The statement was a significant shift in the conversation. It provided a biological framework and imperative for why we must do something about adverse childhood experiences now.

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Coming to the Rescue of Young Men of Color

Feb 27, 2014, 4:30 PM, Posted by Maisha Simmons

The Alameda County Public Health Department's EMS Corps program is supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

When he was 17, Dexter Harris was good at two things: football and hustling. Although he went to school, he spent most of his time trying to earn money. He wasn’t thinking about his future. He was thinking about surviving the here and now.

Instead of finishing his senior year, Dexter found himself in a California juvenile facility. There, he met a mentor named Mike who told Dexter about a new program, EMS Corps, that offered far more than emergency medical training (EMT) classes. EMS Corps also provided tutoring, mentoring and leadership classes, and was looking for people from the community who were willing and ready to serve in the emergency services field.

After hearing about EMS Corps, something changed for Dexter. He weighed his options and saw that with EMS Corps he could actually have the chance for a different life. Dexter threw himself into studying, and eventually graduated first in his EMS Corps class. As a certified EMT, Dexter now has a career with Paramedics Plus and returns to the juvenile facility to teach other young people about being a First Responder.

Dexter Harris Dexter Harris

In every community there are young men like Dexter who have the potential to succeed.  But like most young people, they need help and support to bring out their best.

Today, I was honored to be present at the White House as President Obama helped to add more momentum to a growing movement to expand opportunity for young men of color. I was joined by leaders from both the public and private sector committing their intellect, creativity, passion and resources to continue to identify solutions for men and boys of color.

I was inspired by the continuing and new energy to ensure that every young man has the opportunity make healthy choices and has the tools to live a healthy life. That includes skills to succeed in school and work. EMS Corps is just one bright light among the many innovative and inspiring approaches that the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has been proud to support as part of its effort to create a culture of health and opportunity for all young people.  This new national initiative announced at the White House brings a new chance to build upon this exciting and important work.

It’s not just EMS Corps. Look at our Forward Promise partners to see the richness of programs already lifting up young men. It’s not just the White House and our Foundation colleagues in this movement either. There are thousands of teachers, police chiefs, state and local legislators, judges, church leaders, and community based organizations from across the country that are taking steps to ensure that all young people in America, including our young men of color, have the opportunity to succeed. If our job is to build a culture of health for all young men, then those collective efforts are its vital building blocks.

As I arrived at the White House this afternoon, I couldn’t help but think of Dexter. And of all of the “Dexters” who will benefit from this unprecedented moment of commitment to hope, change, and opportunity for our sons, brothers, students and neighbors. I’m proud to be a part of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and of this larger movement. Together we can bring out the best in our young men. And they—in achieving their promise—can bring out the best in all of us.

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A Portrait of Hope

Dec 16, 2013, 4:46 PM, Posted by Jeff Meade

Chuck Connelly Culture of Health Blog Post Artist Chuck Connelly and his monumental remembrance of the children of Sandy Hook

I first came to know Chuck Connelly in April of last year. He’s a gifted, famous and often controversial artist, whose work has appeared in countless galleries, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art. He’s very much his own man, and that man can be difficult. A writer once described Connelly as “Norman Rockwell on acid—a maverick narrative painter pushing the limits of myth into a modern malaise all his own.”

It’s a left-handed compliment, but there’s no getting around the undeniable truth: Chuck Connelly is an extraordinary talent. He may come across as a rumpled, dark-witted cynic, but on the inside, he is a luminous soul.

So here’s how I came to know Chuck Connelly. He’s an Irish-American who lives in Philly's East Oak Lane neighborhood, and I co-author a blog devoted to Irish culture in Philadelphia. So for our purposes, Connelly was grist for the mill.

And so it was that I found myself on the topmost floor of a ramshackle barn one dreary day last April, gazing upon Connelly’s most recent magnum opus: twenty painstakingly detailed oils on canvas, each one bearing the likeness of a first grader murdered by a lone gunman at Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 14, 2012. All of the paintings were clustered in a simple 10- by 12-foot wooden frame. The entire assembly towered over us. It was a breathtaking, shattering remembrance.
 

When news of the shooting broke, Connelly reacted as the rest of us did, with horror, frustration and anger. A couple of days later, he started painting a portrait of one of the young victims, 6-year-old Emilie Parker. At first, he wasn’t sure where the project was taking him. At that point, it really wasn’t a project. “I started to do the one, Emilie, when it first happened,” Connelly explained to me. “Her face was everywhere. I just thought ... what a tragedy. So I painted her. Then I made Dylan (Hockley), and then I thought ... you know what? I gotta do them all.”

Last week, Connelly’s “Children of Sandy Hook” went on display at Villanova University to commemorate the one-year anniversary.

As that anniversary arrived last weekend, I thought about Chuck Connelly’s heartfelt tribute. It caused me to wonder, probably for the millionth time, when we’re ever going to come to grips with the problem of gun violence. Every shot fired wounds us all.

Here at RWJF, we have devoted a great deal of effort toward understanding gun violence and how to prevent it. One well-known example of our work in this area is grantee Cure Violence, formerly Ceasefire.

Here’s how we describe the program:

Cure Violence uses a public health model to reduce gun violence. By treating violence as a learned behavior that can be “unlearned,” Cure Violence offers a solution to a problem that had been seen as unsolvable.”

Obviously, gun violence is one aspect of a much broader and disturbing picture. It’s not an exaggeration to suggest that violence of all kinds is a plague in the United States, and from our description of Cure Violence, you can begin to understand our response to it. We approach violence as a critical public health issue, and that point of view determines our course of action.

A recent example of our work to curb violence further illustrates that particular approach. It revolves around the issue of adverse childhood experiences, or ACEs. That’s a wonky term, but it is meant to describe and encompass the horrors routinely visited upon children, mostly in the form of abuse and neglect. Many of these children live a nightmarish existence.

Some might say we’re swimming against the tide on this one, but we are, as my colleague Susan Promislo wrote in this space a few months ago, “witnessing a health revolution.” Childhood trauma was the subject of a recent summit in Philadelphia, a confab that garnered a great deal of national attention. Throughout the country, more and more experts are turning their expertise to the problem of ACEs, and many of them are doing pioneering work to understand the problem’s causes, document its long-term emotional and physical damage, and develop creative and effective long-term solutions.

From our work, we know that there are no simple answers to countering childhood trauma—or any other kind of violence. Just a few weeks after the Newtown tragedy, a report by Kevin Freking in the Huffington Post cited a particularly painful statistic: “The United States has about six violent deaths per 100,000 residents.”

I find myself pondering those damning numbers. Can we really do what we want to do? Can we really make the country a better, less violent place? Sometimes it seems impossible. But if there’s one thing I have come to know about this place, it’s that most of us are incredibly hopeful. You can’t work here and not be an optimist at heart. It would be easy to throw up our hands and give up, but no one here gives up.

If the tragedy of Newtown tells us anything, it’s this: When it comes to the challenge of violence in America, if we are to prevail, we must be guided by hope. And to paraphrase one of my favorite Winston Churchill quotes: We can never, never give up.

Jeff Meade is a senior writer/producer for rwjf.org.



Address Toxic Stress in Vulnerable Children and Families for a Healthier America

Jun 21, 2013, 1:43 PM, Posted by Susan Dentzer

Susan Dentzer

“Speed kills,” warns the traditional highway sign about the dangers of haste and traffic deaths. Now, we know that stress kills, too.

Toxic stress, at any rate. The human body’s response to normal amounts of stress—say, a bad day at the office—is likely to be brief increases in the heart rate and mild elevations in hormone levels. But a toxic stress response, stemming from exposure to a major shock or prolonged adversity such as physical or emotional abuse, can wreak far more havoc.         

In children, science now shows that toxic stress can disrupt the developing brain and organ systems. The accumulated lifelong toll of stress-related hormones sharply raises the risk of chronic diseases in adulthood, ranging from heart disease and diabetes to depression and atherosclerosis.

Thus, the message from a panel of experts to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Commission to Build a Healthier America was at once simple and challenging: Create a healthier environment for—and increase coping mechanisms and resilience in—the nation’s most vulnerable and stress-ridden children and families.

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Trumping ACEs: Building Resilience and Better Health in Kids and Families Experiencing Trauma

Jun 19, 2013, 4:18 PM, Posted by Susan Promislo

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Fifteen years ago the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) study found that children exposed to traumatic events were more likely to develop mental and behavioral health problems like depression and addiction. They were also more likely to have physical illnesses like heart disease and diabetes.

Today, based on that evidence, we are witnessing a health revolution.

An op-ed published today in The Philadelphia Inquirer highlights a recent summit and ongoing efforts in Philadelphia to raise awareness about the negative impact of ACEs on health, education, and other outcomes. The piece states:

Neuroscientists have found that traumatic childhood events like abuse and neglect can create dangerous levels of stress and derail healthy brain development, putting young brains in permanent "fight or flight" mode. What scientists often refer to as "toxic stress" has damaging long-term effects on learning, behavior, and health. Very young children are especially vulnerable.

The same message was echoed in testimony today at the RWJF Commission to Build a Healthier America convening in Washington, D.C., where panelists like Jack Shonkoff of the Harvard Center for the Developing Child emphasized the need for early childhood interventions that focus on building the capabilities of parents to protect their children from high levels of violence and stress, and model resilience. 

Continuing to develop our understanding of the connection between ACEs and poor health and other social outcomes, and supporting interventions like Child First, Nurse-Family Partnership, and other efforts that work to stabilize fragile families and put children on the path to healthy development  will help shape RWJF’s ongoing efforts to foster a vibrant culture of health in communities nationwide.

Learn more about ACEs