Children and Polyvictimization: Proactive is Better than Reactive!


When one thinks of children’s exposure to violence and abuse in the home, that is usually as far as our imagery extends. Nothing else. Either it’s a home where instances of abuse, violence or criminal behaviors occur or IT occurs elsewhere. One instance;one type.  Most likely, one accompanies another as co-occurring traumatic experiences for children and family members. Polyvictimization is a much neglected component of child victimization trauma.

Children in the U.S. suffer higher rates of victimization and crime than adults. Actually, 1 in 4 students will experience some type of trauma or victimization before the age of 16, and is directly responsible for a variety of physical and mental health related consequences affecting them well into adulthood.

Efforts to help traumatized and victimized children tend to be fragmented, as they tend to focus on one type of trauma. For example, intervention and prevention programs will focus on bullying, dating violence, sexual abuse, alone. While these are important areas of focus for such programming, it would be most effective to incorporate a holistic and integrated approach to existing and proposed services. By focusing on polyvictimization, teachers, counselors, family and child advocates can provide the best interventions and prevention services.

Children are resilient and many can overcome negative effects of violence and trauma. However, some who are exposed to these events will suffer from traumatic stress long after the trauma has ended. Emotional symptoms such as, depression, anxiety, behavior problems, learning difficulties and attention problems can arise. Physical symptoms including sleep and eating disorders, and even nightmares are often frequent occurrences.

The primary goal of schools is to educate students, and this makes them the most natural places to implement prevention programming strategies,particularly since trauma directly affects the academic achievement of children. Trauma is the greatest cause of underachievement in schools with kids suffering from decreased reading ability, lower GPAs, and higher absences, suspension and dropout rates. Unfortunately, though, not all schools are implementing comprehensive prevention programs-for students AND families/adult caregivers.

It is important to understand that bullying, cyberbullying, sexual assault and abuse, and other types of victimization experienced by kids do not occur in isolation. Trauma-sensitive programming in education usually follows a highly publicized tragic event in a community, as a reaction to a single type of victimization. Focus in school settings should encompass a broad spectrum of victimization and traumatic stress-producing situations and events. Embedded into the guidance program, family engagement services and the general curriculum, as well. Proactive is better than reactive! School staff must become more trauma-sensitive, trauma-focused, and also know what signs to look for, such as:

Young Children (5 and younger)

Young children’s reactions are strongly influenced by their caregivers’ reactions. Children in this age range who are exposed to violence may:
■ Be irritable, fussy or have difficulty calming down
■ Become easily startled
■ Resort to behaviors common to when they were younger (for example, thumb sucking, bed wetting, or fear of the dark)
■ Have frequent tantrums
■ Cling to caregivers
■ Experience changes in level of activity
■ Repeat events over and over in play or conversation

Elementary School-Age Children (6–12 years)

Elementary and middle school children exposed to violence may show problems at school and at home. They may
■ Have difficulty paying attention
■ Become quiet, upset, and withdrawn
■ Be tearful or sad and talk about scary feelings and ideas
■ Fight with peers or adults
■ Show changes in school performance
■ Want to be left alone
■ Eat more or less than usual
■ Get into trouble at home or at school

Teenagers (13–18 years)
Older children may exhibit the most behavioral changes as a result of exposure to violence. Depending on their circumstances, teenagers may:
■ Talk about the event constantly or deny that it happened
■ Refuse to follow rules or talk back with greater frequency
■ Complain of being tired all the time
■ Engage in risky behaviors
■ Sleep more or less than usual
■ Demonstrate increase in aggressive behavior
■ Want to be left alone, not want to spend time with friends
■ Experience frequent nightmares
■ Use drugs or alcohol, run away from home, or get into trouble with the law

What can we do?
Understanding the prevalence and impact of polyvictimization can help families, advocates and practitioners identify the most seriously victimized children and protect them from additional harm. It will also help target intervention and prevention to the full range of trauma-causing events that children are at risk of or have experienced to provide needed services and supports.

Expand Assessment Beyond the ‘Presenting’ Problem
Agencies working with vulnerable children need to ensure that they are not responding only to the “presenting” issue (i.e., sexual abuse) because it is likely that they are also experiencing other types of victimization concurrently (i.e., bullying and physical assaults).
It is critical to recognize the need for more comprehensive assessment to identify them as potential victims of violence and to ensure that their treatment accounts for this possibility.

Emphasize Prevention and Early Intervention

We know that not all children who are exposed to violence require mental health intervention. However, because of their higher vulnerability for problems, children who’ve been exposed to multiple types of trauma, must be formally assessed and referred for intervention when needed. In fact, children and their families should be referred to preventive services, as they may also address individual, relationship and community factors that predict and prevent future exposure.

Provide Comprehensive Services

Treatment and related supports should address the underlying factors for victimization.Reducing stigma and reminders need be strategized and applied to the full range of exposures through developmentally appropriate programming and culturally responsive support services.

Develop Community-Based Partnerships

Services for children exposed to multiple types of victimization and violence must recognize that these kids not only suffer from trauma, but are often stuck in families or environments that may increase the likelihood of repeated victimization. It is therefore best to involve the family, school and work together with other community based providers[e.g. agencies, CBOs, schools, churches…] to assess the environmental conditions Develop strategies to address them, like teaching parenting skills, anger management, self and child advocacy, mental and behavioral health awareness, disseminate information, etc…. Not limited to school or clinical settings, but offer services close to home and in the community. Provide both ‘safe’ and ‘brave’ spaces for children and their families.

Protecting children from abuse and neglect alone is a much too narrow approach to address the ‘whole’ child, because no matter the environmental setting, all children are whole-right then and right there. We mustn’t forget that children are still developing,and their are greatly impacted and influenced by every environment, which includes schools, home, out on the playground. And, whatever happens in one will influence the other.

Break the Cycle
Working with families, the vulnerable and ‘at-risk’ or working with the most vulnerable children and youth, makes it a professional responsibility to help build the protective factors and enhance the capacity of parents, caregivers, teachers, and any adult who may be in a position to intervene and stop the progression toward polyvictimization. Increase awareness of disrupted families, without regard to structure, and be mindful of the communities in which incidents of violence are prevalent. It is under these environmental conditions that we may see early indicators and warning signs of present or future polyvictimization. Proactive is better than reactive!

For more information and resources, please contact the Safe Start Center, a National Resource Center for Children’s Exposure to Violence:

Opiods & Other Addictions: A ‘Hood Health Emergency For Too Long

What I am about to say, perhaps no one wants to hear or read, as it were. But, I would be perpetuating a fraud, to myself and to those communities, groups and individuals who not only want to say, but need to hear someone else say these words. So, this goes out to the strong-minded, self-assured and empathic souls who don’t mind and aren’t threatened by hearing someone speak their truths-share their realities and speak their mind. To further preface this conversation, the words expressed here do not in any way represent the words of a divisive, angry, prejudiced or a hypocrite’s cry. This is merely an example of what it means to ‘broaden one’s cultural lens, and not reject an experience, view or belief of others who may not relate to life as it is lived by another.

When the black and hispanic communities were under siege by the heroin and crack cocaine epidemic, the world and the nation sat back and either let it happen or criminalized the addictive behaviors due to people’s need, far beyond desire, for a ‘fix’ or a ‘hit’ of these drugs. Lots of otherwise good and honest people were ‘jones-ing’ for a psychological and physiological relief, and the country just blamed the victim. Oddly enough, they weren’t responsible for the influx or transport of these drugs into their ‘hoods. But bore the brunt of blame for their conditions as though they were the reason for the country’s ills. We mustn’t forget that illegal substances were strategically placed in their communities, where they lived and raised families.

People went to jail-black people, brown people-men, women and even children at school. Everyone either went to juvenile detention, jail and/or prison. What did anyone care about the children left behind, broken homes or the children who were suffering because of a parent’s drug use? They were taken away from parents, who were considered unfit or criminals and as a result, innocent kids entered the child welfare system-and into another type of imprisonment themselves. Where does the hope lie? Where is the help or disease model or social policy change? Compassion, empathy, humanity? National health emergency? NIMBY!!![not in my backyard]
Over the past 15 years, communities across our nation have been devastated by increasing prescription and illicit opioid abuse, addiction, and overdose. In 2016, over 11 million Americans misused prescription opioids, nearly 1 million used heroin, and 2.1 million had an opioid use disorder due to prescription opioids or heroin. Since 2013, the introduction of illegally produced fentanyl has made the problem worse.
For prescription drugs, the availability was ever plentiful. All one needed to do was be white and visit a favorite medical doctor. Occasionally, hospitalizations precipitated this addition. It began as physiological in nature. Genuine pain-bodily. But does that mean that people in the poorer communities were not in pain too? A different type of pain that didn’t require an injury or surgery, but that which one could only wish would cease to bother their minds. Their heads were hurting, from the inside. Souls were in turmoil. Dreams were deferred and destroyed. Hope was all but gone, withering away due to life as a minority in a system that had no respect, regard or felt any remorse for them or their children. The system worked for them, and that was all that really mattered. Everyone knew it;everyone felt it;everyone saw it. Their brains were experiencing pains of a systemic sort.
That is not to say that in suburbia, there was nobody experiencing psychological pain. The pains felt were not economical to the extent that basic life needs were continuously negotiated and prioritized on a level incomprehensible to most. Their pains were not brought on because of skin color or name. They were the pains of, what some would consider ‘excess’, privilege and extreme comforts.
Abuse, neglect, food insecurity, unemployment, ageism, misogyny, and others exist across the board. Coping skills are only as sophisticated as that which we are either taught directly, vicariously or by happenstance. The coping skills which manifest as central to our ability to engage resilience and continue along a defined journey into being.

As we seek solutions in the national fight against opiods and other illegal substances, SAMHSA’s[Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration] latest press release stated that the agency looks forward to continuing its role in helping American communities through evidence-based programs in prevention, treatment, and recovery services on behalf of all who have suffered the effects of opioid addiction.
HHS[Health and Human Services] is implementing five specific strategies that are guiding SAMHSA’s response. The comprehensive, evidenced-based Opioid Strategy aims to:

  • Improve access to treatment and recovery services to prevent the health, social, and economic consequences associated with opioid addiction and to enable individuals to achieve long-term recovery;
  • Target the availability and distribution of these drugs, and ensure the broad provision of overdose-reversing drugs to save lives;
  • Strengthen public health data reporting and collection to improve the timeliness and specificity of data and to inform a real-time public health response as the epidemic evolves;
  • Support cutting-edge research that advances our understanding of pain and addiction, leads to the development of new treatments, and identifies effective public health interventions to reduce opioid-related health harms; and
  • Advance the practice of pain management to enable access to high-quality, evidence-based pain care that reduces the burden of pain for individuals, families, and society while also reducing the inappropriate use of opioids and opioid-related harms.

We shall see how the nation, as a whole, recovers from the persistent menace  called ‘drug addiction’, a recognized crippling, life-destroying, family disruptive, community compromising temporary ‘cure’ for unmet needs, unspoken and unacknowledged anger felt by millions. People, we need a national intervention! Doctors, clinicians and behavioral health practitioners, step up to the plate! Use your voices, training and your skills to engage us in a collective catharsis. We need a breakthrough! The pain is killing people all around us! 911 emergencies are for psychological pain, too! If you are in pain, seek help!

How Do Schools Support Children Whose Parent Has a Mental Illness?


families diverseBetween one in four and one in five adults will experience a mental illness during their lifetime. At the time of their illness, at least one quarter to half of these will be parents. Their children have an increased rate of mental health problems, indicating a strong link between adult and child mental health. Parental mental illness has an adverse effect on child mental health and development, while child psychological and psychiatric disorders and the stress of parenting impinge on adult mental health. Furthermore, the mental health of children is a strong predictor of their mental health in adulthood.

School children who have a parent suffering from a mental illness, are impacted in many other ways. By nature of their parent’s mental health condition, many children are thrust into adult-like responsibilities at home and in the community and this compounds and potentially compromises the responsibilities they already have as learners at school. With this in mind, children will need extra supports from educators in these settings.

Schools are tasked with providing academic instruction, promoting achievement and maintaining safe and supportive learning environments for all students. The programming and general curriculum should be comprehensively designed to address the ‘whole child’ and age- appropriate developmental, social-emotional and intellectual needs, as well. Addressing needs, specific to the demographics, should be complemented by culturally responsive and evidence-based practices.

In general, parents and children want appropriate understanding and support based on the different needs of individual family members. This support needs to be sustained over time, but should also vary to reflect any change in circumstances.

More specifically, parents want:

  • more understanding, less stigma and discrimination relative to mental health
  • support in looking after their children
  • good quality services to meet the needs of their children
  • parent support groups
  • child-centered provisions and ongoing support and
  • freedom from fear of the removal of their child from the home.

For their children, parents want:

  • opportunities to openly and safely discuss any fears, confusion and guilt
  • opportunities to engage with adults they can trust and participate in activities where they will engage with other children
  • reasonable explanation and age -appropriate discussions surrounding mental health;they need to understand the impact on their parent]
  • continuity of care with minimal disruption of routines, esp. during crises[For schools, this means instructional continuity. Educators aren’t expected to go along as though nothing changed, but rather mindfully provide structure and the routine sense of stability for students.]

Children and young people, and those taking on a caring or adult-like role in the family want:

  • a reliable contact person in case of any crisis events
  • practical help with carrying out added adult-like responsibilities in recognition of their role in the family
  • someone to talk to-not necessarily formal counseling
  • chance to make and see friends.

Using your observational skills, knowledge and experience:

Your skills, knowledge and experience may help in noting
changes in coping, attention and presentation that may
indicate when a child or family is in need of support.
Some possible signs are:
• Poor attendance and/or interactions with others.
• Regression of development and/or emotional maturity.
• Taking on adult caring responsibilities for their parent.
• Worrying excessively about their parent’s welfare.
• Overly shy or aggressive behavior.
• Disturbed or self-destructive behavior.
• Unkempt or very changeable physical appearance of the child.
• Working very hard to obey or please adults, this may appear as ‘perfect’ behavior.

Ways you can assist children

You can help children to develop resilience by:

• Creating a warm and predictable environment in the classroom.
• Enhancing each child’s sense of responsibility and belonging. Assigning a ‘special’ role to a child can help them to feel valued.
• Being available to listen. Children respond well to staff that are genuinely interested in them, even if they know you can’t solve their problems.
• Supporting the child to use the coping skills they have and enhancing their social and communication skills.
• Encouraging and supporting the child to have positive expectations of themself and their family.
• Assisting the child to find age-appropriate information on mental illness.
• Strengthening the child’s self-esteem and resilience by providing opportunities for them to practice and achieve mastery in school related activities.

What to do if you notice changes in the child that concern you:
• Express your observations to the child’s parent(s) sensitively and ask open-ended questions (e.g. “I’ve noticed some changes in your child (or you) lately. How are things going?”)
• Use active listening techniques and reflect back to the parent what they tell you, to be sure you understand. Be calm, open and non-judgemental.
• Offer to help them find support or information. If you feel uncomfortable about talking with the parent, seek help from your school principal, counseling or other school based support staff.
• Schools have access to a range of supports for children and parents. Your school will have clear policies and procedures to support decision-making when there are serious concerns about children’s well-being or safety. This policy should outline your obligations under the child protection guidelines in your
state. When discussing any concerns with parents, consider highlighting that reporting your concerns can often assist the family to access extra support.

Build understanding about mental health and illness within the school community, and include relevant articles in your school newsletter, as well. Display posters and pamphlets in key areas around the building to promote awareness and decrease stigma. Celebrate Mental Health Week and embed such issues in the curriculum. Encourage discussion and read literature pertaining to mental health in the classroom, and include a wide range of books in the school library also.

Building relationships is always important, but with parents who experience a mental illness, the barriers can make this a slower process. It can help to find something you have in common, such as a shared interest. This could be anything (e.g. following the same sport, interest in music or the local community news). Parents have a wide range of interests and experiences. The challenge
is finding something that you have in common to help build rapport between you both.`Be positive, be realistic, be flexible and persevere in your school’s supports for families and children of parents with a mental illness. Include parents and help their child feel included and supported. It does take a village!

Still Searching For An Equal Co-Parent?


My daughter and her husband are both working parents. They have the same employer-the United States Air Force. They also share job titles. Both are Instructor Pilots. They have a one-year old daughter, who adds another dimension to family life and their relationship. They have to be able to effectively co-parent, in their child’s best interest.

In two parent homes with children, it is no longer uncommon for both to be employed outside of the home. Most employers, including the US Air Force, have some form of a parental leave policy for both women and men, paternity or maternity leave. When a new baby arrives, it is both joyful and frightening for both partners. Life, as they once knew it must be renegotiated. It can be overwhelming, and although times have changed, mothers still are expected to bear the most responsibilities of caring for a child.

Working mothers have to negotiate a timely return to work, if she values her career or if her paychecks are critical to the financial survival of the family. This can also reflect the beliefs that held regarding the role of men and women as it pertains to career, childcare and certain household chores. The ‘traditional’ division of labor assumed that women had the primary responsibility for maintaining the home and children in the home. Women were expected to do it all- everything except work outside of the home. Men handled the world of work, managed household finances, and occasionally would mow the lawn or do light repairs. Today, this is being challenged and flipped on its head. Not any more, but couples must negotiate their roles while respecting the reality which says,”the house doesn’t clean itself”, and meanwhile, the bills must get paid.


Stay at home mothers ARE still working mothers, and there are no designated work hours. It is a 24/7 non-paying position. Women have choices and today, they exercise those choices. My daughter and son-in-law reflect a more equitable distribution of labor and duties with regard to their daughter. While breastfeeding, a father’s role in childcare is minimal at best. Changing diapers, occasional bathing, burping, characterized his role.

Upon returning to work, as Pilots, their work-related duties are complex. When my daughter discovered that she was expecting, she had the obligation to inform her superiors. She is a Major,  Director of Flight Operations, and was grounded by the military during this critical time of her life. Three months leave, and cleared to fly again, she returned to work. My son-in-law didn’t have to negotiate the issues faced by my daughter. He, also a Major, continued to fly during her pregnancy. She became, while pregnant, the chief logistics officer. In other words, she was limited to desk duty, scheduled airtime, flight schedules, student assessments, but no flying…temporarily.


Now that she has resumed her full time duties-  is airborne again- the  baby’s childcare decision had to be made. Together, they agreed upon a nurturing environment for her/their daughter which allowed continued nursing.  Fortunately, the Air Force also provides an on-site, on base CDC[child day care] center. Both mom and dad can drop in and visit their daughter during their workday, and as greatly respected officers, they felt secure in the quality of care, as well.


At home, my daughter and her husband  co-parent so nicely, and almost naturally, too. I envy them both, while admiring their level of maturity, equity and equal consideration of one another within a dual-career family. He can be seen giving baths, cleaning the house, washing dishes, and  vacuuming rugs[even though Roomba* does the work]. He also, with relative frequency, prepares nighttime bottles for his daughter and rocks her to sleep, giving mom a little rest. I didn’t mention that they also have two dogs, as well.

There is nothing that my daughter does that he doesn’t or won’t do. It is so reassuring to me to see this type of relationship between two people. I am so very proud of them both. For almost nine years of marriage, these new parents, both career-oriented and responsible adults, are contemplating child #2 soon. Another military brat in the future! Co-parenting? Yes it is alive and well, in at least one family, my daughter’s. [Did she train him well?] Or is he too good to be true, and a product of his own upbringing? To whatever we attribute it, they are a beautiful family, adoring parents and they have one lucky little girl!

Their relationship,  no matter where their lives and careers lead,  is enhanced because they are both such loving and adoring parents. That is one of the most  important components necessary, along with mutual respect, effective communication and effective coping skills that adults must demonstrate and model for their children.

The notion of co-parenting was examined in new research that measured the hours spent by 167 couples who work full-time on housework before and after the birth of their first child. While mothers tend to do the lion’s share of childcare and housework, six major factors emerged that may determine how likely men are to strive to do their fair share. Read more by following the link below:

via Searching for an equal co-parent.

Also, share your opinions and experiences on co-parenting-past or present. Leave a reply!