AAP News: Pediatricians can help children overcome exposure to violence

January 1, 2010

Attorney General Eric Holder said that it is possible to reverse the damage that exposure to violence causes in children.

Attorney General Eric Holder said that it is possible to reverse the damage that exposure to violence causes in children. "It is within our power to help these kids," he said during a session at the AAP conference.

"Research has shown that early intervention is effective in countering the effects of violence," Holder said, adding that quality programs have shown results in "enhancing resiliency and fostering healthy child development." The benefits, he said, extend to children exposed to frequent violence.

Referring to the National Survey of Children's Exposure to Violence recently released by the Department of Justice (DOJ), Holder said that the nation now has a more comprehensive story on how violence affects children across age groups and settings.

The DOJ study has been criticized as being overly inclusive. For example, one of the questions in the survey asked whether any other child, including a sibling, had hit the child in question.

However, Holder said that the study points out the necessity of a public health approach to bring attention to the social costs of violence and address not only the effects manifested in the child, but also the family and the environment.

Calling for service systems to communicate and work together, Holder cited the example of the Boston Medical Center, which brings pediatric providers together with mental health professionals and attorneys to ensure that all of a child's interests are protected.

He also pointed to the DOJ's "Safe Start" program, which supports efforts in hospitals and pediatric clinics to identify suffering from trauma caused by violence. The Safe Start program includes a caregiver document that doctors and staff can give to families, available at http://www.safestartcenter.org/.

"One of our goals is to work with healthcare providers and especially pediatricians to recognize manifestations of exposure," Holder said.

Despite these new initiatives for helping healthcare professionals to identify exposure to violence, Holder said that more information is needed about how to help these children.

Pediatricians can play a critical role in transforming "America for the better, one child at a time," Holder said.