Taking Care of the Children
I've begun reading Flat Broke with Children: Women in the Age of Welfare Reform by Sharon Hays. Although the book focuses on the effects of welfare reform on poor women, who are commonly single mothers, it makes clear that there are also often deleterious effects on their children. The need for single mothers on welfare to get jobs and obey highly prescriptive rules means that they often have neither the time to devote to their children nor the resources to afford adequate child care. Children growing up in such environments may lack adequate parenting, may be subject to abuse, and frequently are witnesses to acts of violence.
I was thus sensitized when a colleage brought to my attention an article in the Summer 2006 CURA Reporter entitled "Improving Access to Care for Traumatized Children: Law Enforcement–Mental Health Collaborations for Child Witnesses to Violence" by Abigail Gewirtz, Donald Harris, and Mary Jo Avendano.
Gewirtz is a child psychologist and Clinical Assistant Professor at the University of Minnesota where she teaches and conducts research at the Institute of Child Development and the Department of Psychology. She is also Director of Research at Twin Cities-based Tubman Family Alliance, one of the largest family violence resource agencies in the country, and project director for the Minnesota Child Response Initiative, a multi-disciplinary preventive intervention for children exposed to violence. Harris is deputy chief of the Minneapolis Police Department. Avendano is clinical supervisor of the Child Development Policing Program and clinical director of Centro Cultural Chicano, a large social services agency providing comprehensive social and psychological services to the Latino community.
The article notes: "Although children may be victims of violence or abuse, the majority of children involved in violent events are witnesses who suffer psychological, rather than physical, harm and thus are less likely to come to the attention of service providers. These children have been described as the 'silent victims' of violence."
It goes on to describe the Child Development Policing Program,
...developed during the past three years by the Minneapolis Police Department and community and university partners to develop and sustain a police–mental health collaboration. The purpose of this collaboration is to increase access to services for children who are traumatized and ultimately to ameliorate the impact of violence on children. The program—which is voluntary for families—partners police officers, children’s mental health providers (psychologists and clinical social workers), and family advocates to enhance police officers’ skills when encountering children, particularly those traumatized by violence, and to provide clinical intervention in the close aftermath of violent incidents witnessed by children.
This is not only an admirable program, it is also a striking example of engagement between the University and an agency that is rarely thought of as having an intellectual or social service bent: the Police Department. One hopes that the program can be sustained and have the opportunity to demonstrate its value over time, so that it can serve as a proven model.