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:

Bilingualism: A 21st Century Asset

¿Hablas Español?

                                            Parlez-vous Français?

Sprechen Sie Deutsche?

The ability to speak at least one language other than your native tongue, being bilingual, is an asset in today’s diverse society. In America, if not already, our unofficial second language should be Spanish, because we have so many Spanish speakers living among us. Chinese, Urdu, Russian, German,…..Italian, and a host of other languages and dialects can be heard spoken by people we pass along on our busy streets everyday. Isn’t anyone curious? Fascinated?

If anyone is prone to paranoia, certainly there must be some degree of curiosity when next to or near two or more people speaking in a language other than English. It is elitist of us, in America, to expect everyone who enters our national borders to speak English in order to acceptably communicate with us.We get offended when someone dares to not know this language, or speaks with very heavy foreign accents. Some even get offended and mock the Southern accent, and associate it with low[er] intelligence or racism when an American-born citizen dares to speak with that southern ‘drawl’. [That’s a different conversation, however.] We can be so insufferably intolerant! It is too difficult to understand foreign accents, we think to ourselves, and communication is strained. At least they make an effort to engage us in our native language, but do we extend the same courtesy?

We say,”This is America. Speak English!” And place the responsibility on others, recent immigrants, foreigners to conform and learn our official language with immediacy. How dare we think and behave so one-sided! Is anyone old enough to remember the time when a general high school diploma could not be earned without studying Latin, that dead language? I understand the reasoning, although I was lucky to graduate high school the first year after Latin was no longer a requirement for graduation. Much of our English words have Latin derivatives. Makes sense. I studied French and mastered Spanish anyway, as elective courses.

That was then, and this is now. The world is a global village, we exist in a global economy and we are to respect and appreciate diversity-even language diversity. Overall, having the ability to speak a second language is a wonderful and highly marketable skill and an undeniable asset. So many career areas pay higher salaries and employers actively recruit professionals with bilingual or multilingual skills, in all career sectors. Especially valuable in the helping professions, and those who work directly with the public, when one can eliminate potential language barriers, he or she tends to wear many hats and possesses great value to employers.  They become the ‘go-to’ person who serves as translator, liaison, advocate and designated communicator. That’s valuable!

Children who are raised in households where the primary spoken language isn’t English, aren’t handicapped at all. As ELLs[English Language Learners], they actually have a great advantage over other children whose primary language is English or monolingual. Allow me to explain some of the many benefits of being bilingual.

  1. Studies show that being bilingual has many cognitive benefits. Speaking a second language can mean that you have a better attention span and can multi-task better than monolinguals. Switching from one side of the brain to the other, constantly provides this benefit. There have been studies showing that bilingualism reduces the risk of having a stroke. Cognitive benefits effect kids and adults.
  2. Bilingualism has educational advantages. Many of the above benefits also can mean there is an advantage at school. Many studies have shown that they are less distracted and more task-focused. A Millennium Cohort study found that young children who are educated in their second language may initially fall behind their peers between 3-5 years old. But, they soon catch up and outperform their peers by age 7.
  3. As stated earlier, languages are highly valued in the workplace, with numerous employment benefits. Being bilingual means that there are more jobs opportunities depending on languages spoken. Bilingual skills is definitely a great plus for a resume, and can boost your chances of landing that job, even when you may not be as qualified as another monolingual applicant.
  4. Speaking a foreign language can be of great benefit when you travel. You can get around in many other countries around the world without knowing or speaking the native or local language. If you can speak the language, imagine how much more fulfilling and enjoyable your experiences will be when there. Immerse yourself in the language and culture and develop empathy, and multicultural sensitivity and awareness, almost effortlessly.
  5. One of the biggest misconceptions is that bilingualism is rare, but being bilingual means you are not the minority. More than half the world speaks more than one language on a daily basis. In fact, in many countries bilingualism is the norm.

Hopefully soon, the rest of the world will catch on, and that means us in the United States of America. Everyone should have the chance to learn a second language and reap the benefits of being bilingual. Imagine…some people are multilingual, and speak up to eight or more languages! That is fantastic, and a 21st Century asset in a global society. Bring foreign languages instruction back into our nation’s schools, not just for ELLs, but native English language speakers, too. Begin instruction as early as elementary school. Everyone benefits,  on a global scale, with bilingual skills. I suggest that we go out and learn a new language…today! ¡Adios!

“The OODA Loop”: De-escalating Conflict & Potentially Violent Situations


oakland blk minds matterWhether you work in a school setting or practically any other, conflict is almost certainly inevitable. These are times when there is an opposition of strengths between parties and principles. Unfortunately, many professionals lack some of the tools necessary for de-escalating conflict and working towards the negotiation of more positive outcomes.

Simply stated, conflict occurs when two people disagree, and often this leads to frustration which can lead to anger and if not addressed, aggression, violence and other irrational behaviors can ensue. Conflicts may turn into violence depending upon the role each participant plays. It is important, for that reason alone, to understand the principles of non-violent conflict resolution and the importance of maintaining focus on achieving a desired outcome from the conflict.

First, it must be understood that you are in charge of how you react. Attitudes must remain positive at all times while ensuring that you give the situation your full attention. Every time you communicate, verbally or nonverbally through body language, your attitude is apparent. It is best to present a professional, unbiased and positive attitude. The goal is to  redirect the other person’s behavior and generate voluntary compliance using verbal techniques.

Aggression arising from frustration is one of the prime triggers of conflict and usually happens anytime someone wants something they cannot have. Communication breakdowns, lack of adequate skills and even alcohol can be contributing factors. Regardless, the intended goal should be constant, to mitigate risk factors, and de-escalate conflict while always outcome-focused. The tactics one must employ in such situations need to be processed and implemented within a short period of time. Time is critical.

One of the best and simplest overviews of conflict resolution is ‘The OODA Loop’ developed during the Korean War. OODA stands for:





Begin to first observe all aspects of the situation[situation awareness] taking into account the totality of the situation. Then orientate the information gathered about the conflict and compare it to any training, experience and knowledge about conflicts. Next, decide on the best course of action[based on the matching of the first two steps] and lastly put the action into motion. No matter what the action is[disengage, call for more resources, make an initial approach, etc…], there will be a resulting reaction or change in circumstances and the loop begins again.

This loop can occur in a split second, and decisions  are made in high stress and volatile environments. This needs to be taken into account. Be patient, tactful, blunt, control your sense of pride and understand that IT IS NOT PERSONAL. De-escalating conflicts using verbal techniques is almost  an art form, and one must remain calm, logical and professional. If the conflict is directed at you, know that people are usually venting at the authority you represent and not you personally. By removing the personal element from the scenario, it becomes easier to be mindful that, “you are in charge of how you react”.

Here a few steps that can be followed to work towards more effective conflict de-escalation and resolution:

  • Obtain the name of the person with whom you are speaking: People respond favorably to their own name, and it makes the conversation more personal. Ask for the person’s name early and use it throughout the conversation.
  • Use Active Listening:Clarifying, paraphrasing, and open-ended questions help to ensure that the person is aware that you understand their frustrations completely. This helps lower frustration levels as it allows the person[s] to ‘get it off their chest’, and vent. Also, repeating someone else’s words back to them clearly shows your comprehension of their points on a very basic level.
  • Slow down and suspend judgment: Empathy needs to be shown during conflict situations, even if you don’t agree with the other person. Expressing your understanding of their feelings will help to resolve the conflict. Ensure you give this your full attention and demonstrate respect for the other person’s feelings and opinions.
  • Get them to say yes: It is very hard for someone to remain angry towards you if they are agreeing with you. Sounds ridiculous?? Using clarifying statements, questions and using summaries during the conversation all help to confirm your understanding their point. Example,” So you are feeling frustrated because of XYZ, is that right?” You are creating a situation where the other person has to respond with a ‘yes’, and the more often we get them to say yes, the quicker the conflict will de-escalate.   Extremely useful technique!
  • Don’t use clichés: The worst is saying,”Calm Down”. If you have ever heard these words, you know that the usual response is “I am calm”, and said at the top of their lungs, too. Hand gestures will be animated as well. So, don’t say it!
  • Express empathy: Show compassion and give the conflict full attention, without making rash judgments. Work through the process.
  • Consistency in Courtesy: The person you are dealing with at midnight is the same person you are dealing with at midday. They deserve the same level of respect, courtesy and patience. The 12th person with whom you have interacted deserves the same respect as the 2nd-be consistent and professionalism. Often, you are making both a first and last impression for someone. A consummate professional!

Verbal de-escalation tools are important skills to possess and as such, need to be honed and practiced regularly if they are to become part of our natural response to conflict situations. Training and ingraining these techniques to the point where they become second nature allows you to focus more on the fluid and dynamic changing aspects of conflict such as the signs and triggers mentioned above. This also enables you to develop a greater awareness of other situational factors. The combination of all these factors will provide the greatest chance of minimizing and resolving conflict in the safest and most positive way possible. Remember “The OODA Loop”!!!