Fund For Better Health helps provide crisis intervention for children
(ARA) - It's 6 a.m. and Lori Florin is addressing the Akron Police Department of Ohio during their daily roll call. She's informing the entire force of a new -- and much needed -- community resource called Children Who Witness Violence.
"Eighty percent of the domestic violence disturbance calls in Akron in 2000 had children present," notes Florin. "Witnessing violence can cause any number of short- and long-term effects on kids -- both emotionally and physically -- from clinical depression and violent behavior, to declining grades in school."
Children Who Witness Violence (CWWV) will provide on-site crisis intervention and follow-up visits for youths exposed to violence in their homes, plus ongoing trauma support services when necessary. CWWV is a collaborative effort among 28 organizations throughout Summit County, and hosted by the Children's Hospital Medical Center of Akron.
Akron Chief of Police Michael Matulavich says, "Children Who Witness Violence is a great initiative that the Akron Police Department supports fully. We hope it will have a profound effect on these young kids in helping them overcome the trauma they are experiencing."
Florin is assistant director at Victim Assistance Program, one of CWWV's early partners. Trained personnel from Victim Assistance and similar agencies will staff the crisis intervention teams that respond when police find children present at a site of alleged domestic abuse, assault, murder, suicide or any other traumatic incident.
"Our crisis intervention teams will be available 24 hours a day, seven days a week," explains Florin. "When we arrive, our top priorities are to make sure that the child is safe, and to teach him or her that the incident isn't their fault."
Intervention teams use specially-developed "I Saw It Happen" activity workbooks to help children cope with their feelings. A $1,000 grant from the American Medical Association Foundation's "Fund For Better Health" enabled CWWV to purchase the intervention workbooks.
"The AMA Foundation is proud to support Children Who Witness Violence," reports Joseph Riggs, M.D., AMA Trustee and President of the AMA Foundation Board of Directors, "because by counseling children during times of stress and showing them that we care, we will certainly help to avoid depression and/or other violent acts in the future."
As the philanthropic arm of the American Medical Association -- the nation's largest physician association -- the AMA Foundation established "The Fund For Better Health" in 2002 to provide financial support to grassroots community service projects addressing violence prevention, health literacy and anti-tobacco. The Fund's first round of grant winners were announced in June.
Florin continues, "We ask kids to draw pictures or write words to help express their feelings. It's important for them to know that whichever emotions they're experiencing -- anger, sadness, confusion -- that it's OK to be feeling that way, and that there are people around who care about them and will protect them."
Iris Meltzer, administrative director for the Center for Adolescent Health at Children's Hospital, advocates that CWWV will help break the cycle of violence that repeats from generation to generation.
"Studies show that 82 percent of men convicted of domestic violence were themselves victims or witnesses in childhood," Meltzer says. "If we can offer these children counseling and support at the time of the abuse, we hope to reduce the likelihood of repetition and continued victimization."
The Summit County Medical Alliance played a significant role in developing the Children Who Witness Violence project. Alliance past president Susan Delahanty says, "Our relationship with CWWV grew from the Alliance's Summit County Domestic Violence Coalition, which we formed in 1994. With the huge success of the Coalition, we were asked to serve as a charter member on the CWWV task force."
As CWWV began to take shape, the Summit County Medical Alliance contributed $10,000 to the new project and was responsible for involving the AMA Foundation. Delahanty adds, "We are very pleased to be a part of this program both as a planner in the beginning and now as an active supporter and fundraiser."
A small test-run for Children Who Witness Violence was held in Akron during the first week of September. After a full evaluation and any necessary modifications, the program will be launched throughout Summit County in late October. CWWV expects to serve 200 to 400 families in its first year, with those numbers doubling by 2003 and 2004.