Report says fewer children are living in violent homes these days

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Ninety-five percent of parents say a school should intervene if a student fears for her or his physical safety, but only 56 percent say the same when it comes to social isolation.

In 18 years - the time it takes for an infant to develop into an adult - the number of children who've become victims of violence at home has declined, says a report released Wednesday by the federal Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Statistics.

The report suggests that in 1993, 8.7 million children 17 or younger lived in homes that experienced some type of non-fatal violence - rape, sexual assault, robbery, aggravated assault and simple assault. By 2010, that number had dropped by 68 percent.

Only about four percent of children in 2010 lived in a home where someone older than 11 years was a victim of those types of violence. The report says the decline could be part of a general drop in crime during this time period.

The numbers interest educators because several studies indicate that children can develop learning distractions such as intrusive thoughts, jumpiness, anger or mood swings after they experience just one traumatic life event. Chronic exposure to such events can affect a child’s attention and memory or ability to organize and solve problems.

Pia Escudero is the director of School Mental Health with the Los Angeles Unified School District. She says LA Unified regularly asks students whether they’ve experienced traumatic events such as bullying, a car accident, being punched or kicked, a death or a serious health problem. These events can happen to the child anywhere - at home, at the park, at school or someplace else. Escuedero says that by the 6th grade, about 60 percent of the students her staff screens have experienced multiple traumatic events. By the 9th grade, that proportion rises to nearly 90 percent.

But Escuedero says although it’s important to know that children are exposed more and more to traumatic situations, the new way to consider this is to rely on the “glass half full” theory. She says crisis counselors try to focus on the what they can do to counteract the potentially paralyzing effects when children frequently face traumatic events.

“There are some elements we know that you need and that promote resilience. We call them protective factors,” she said.

Some of those factors include:

  • A sense of safety and security will suppress a child’s biological instincts to always be on edge, alert and stressed

  • Having a strong relationship or connection to someone or in a community where the child feels accepted and can get emotional encouragement

  • A sense of self-efficacy, a child’s own belief and hope that they can pull through and set high standards of achievement.

  • If you didn’t catch this weekend’s episode of This American Life, you might want to download it. The radio show digs deep into non-cognitive skills or so-called soft skills such as impulse control, the ability to maintain self-respect amid trauma and develop resiliency.

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