Rising from a Culture of Violence to a Culture of Health

Sara McLanahan, Editor-in-Chief of Future of Children, along with several colleagues, recently prepared a policy report published by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) that describes children’s exposure to violence in the Fragile Families Study (see the Future of Children Fall 2010 volume to learn more about Fragile Families). The report examines neighborhood violence, intimate partner violence, and harsh parenting, and finds that these types of violence are endemic and interrelated. An implication of these findings is that we need to tackle all these kinds of violence simultaneously, rather than in isolation. The authors point out, for instance, that reducing harsh parenting practices of mothers who experience domestic violence and are worried about their child’s safety won’t be as effective as reducing harsh parenting while also taking on the other problems.

What’s preventing us from achieving this vision?

Part of the problem, as the policy report points out, is that our efforts to combat violence could be more holistic. In other words, there might be a number of specialized programs working on different types of violence within the same community, and yet there can be a disconnect in communication and coordination between these well-meaning efforts. This disconnect warrants consideration.

To gather ideas from stakeholders on how to “break down the silos” between specialized efforts, RWJF has provided a discussion forum led by Senior Program Officer Martha Davis, along with a dialogue on RWJF’s LinkedIn Leadership Network. In the discussion threads, a common theme I noticed from several community leaders was that we should use common needs as a way to build relationships that cross program boundaries. The proposition that all stakeholders–such as prevention, intervention, community services and government–should come together, trust one another, share information and resources, and work together on objectives seems promising.

As a social worker, I often wonder how ideas and research can make a meaningful difference in people’s lives. With this in mind, I recently connected with Martha and discussed the bigger picture. What I learned from our conversation was that we can all catch RWJF’s vision of a culture of health in our communities–part of which is that all children will be able to grow up in safe and nurturing environments at home, in the neighborhood, and at school. And that all children will have a real chance from the very beginning to develop to their full potential as individuals. Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, the President of RWJF, describes this vision in her 2014 President’s Message. I’m excited by the challenge to promote a culture of health.

I would like to invite you to join the conversation. Read the policy report and comment below to share your ideas. Tell us about any programs or policies you believe are making a difference that we can learn from, how you think we can move from a culture of violence to a culture of health, or anything else you think can be part of the solution for improving environments for children and their families.

2 thoughts on “Rising from a Culture of Violence to a Culture of Health

  1. Garrett T. Pace Post author

    Thanks for your comment, Tania. I think you’ve chosen an interesting and important topic for your research paper. I hope it’s a rewarding experience and that you get an excellent grade.

    Having working with children in the juvenile justice system, I share in your heartbreak. So many troubled youth have been through hard things, and I have felt of their emotional pain to a very small degree.

    I agree adults bear a responsibility to care and get involved. There are many noble causes to care about, and this one ranks very high among them. There are many things that can be done at all levels of intervention to help kids feel safe. I think it will take a holistic approach to this complex challenge in society.

  2. Tania Bailey

    Interesting article Mr. Pace. I am working on a research paper for my English Composition class for college and the topic I have chosen to write about is revising the juvenile justice system. Upon researching this topic, I have found some very disturbing and heartbreaking facts.

    When children experience or witness violence within the home or their neighborhoods, they are far more susceptible to become delinquents. Many risk factors that influence criminal behavior are witnessing domestic violence, poverty, gang involvement, and impoverished neighborhoods. According to some information I found, 42% of girls placed in confined residential facilities due to crimes committed have experienced one or more types of physical or sexual abuse. How can we as a society help the children? Some believe that mentorship has a significantly positive impact on the life of a child. According to Robert Listenbee who is an administrator with the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, adults who volunteer his or her time may help to improve behavioral, social, emotional, and academic outcomes for at-risk youth.

    Many children of today are failing. Who else can be to blame except the adults who refuse to step in and help? If a child does not feel safe within the ones home or community, then how can we expect the child to properly mature into an upstanding productive citizen? As the old saying goes, it takes a village to raise a child.

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