A new national campaign launched last week hopes to raise awareness around childhood trauma, starting with a series of videos that highlight the important roles that adults can play in helping children succeed after experiencing violence.
Organized under the auspices of the DOJ’s Defending Childhood initiative, the campaign is designed to draw attention to issues faced by children who have witnessed or have been victimized by violence and provide adults who interact with them— such as teachers, coaches, school nurses, guidance counselors and others — with tools and tips about how they can help children recover from these traumatic experiences.
In 2010, the Defending Childhood initiative was started by then-Attorney General Eric Holder at the Department of Justice with the goal of addressing the issue of childhood exposure to violence and its impacts on health, safety and education.
Recent research on children’s brain development has focused on the impact of witnessing violence, including domestic violence, fighting or other early adverse experiences.
According to researchers like Jack Shonkoff at Harvard University’s Center for the Developing Child and others, these traumatic experiences can impair the physical development of brain and lead to lifelong behavioral and health issues.
The Changing Minds campaign kicked off with an event last week at the White House and former Attorney General Holder helped drive attention to it with an article in The Washington Post.
In the article, Holder wrote that about 58 percent of children in the country have experienced some kind of abuse, trauma or violence in the past year, either as victims or as witnesses.
To draw attention to the widespread experiences of these children, the Changing Minds campaign has created three videos that bring home the issue of childhood exposure to violence, along with a series of ads and banners that organizers hope will be seen by adults who work or volunteer with children.
Two narrative-driven stories (“Chad” and “Unique”) are part of an effort to demonstrate that adults can play an important part in helping children succeed after experiencing adverse childhood experiences.
In “Chad,” a young man recalls the importance of a relationship with his football coach at his small-town high school, who provides him with stability during a turbulent childhood marked by domestic violence.
“Unique” tells the story of a teenager struggling to handle the emotional fallout after witnessing the stabbing of a friend. A teacher at her school gives Unique the support and acknowledgement she needs to thrive.
A shorter video describes how stable, supportive relationships with adults can reverse the damage suffered by children who have experienced childhood trauma.
The Changing Minds campaign has created a series of ads for print publication. Most of them feature a picture of a brain scan that is cracked and broken, like a window. The idea, according to Futures Without Violence Communications Director Marsha Robertson, is to publicize the steps that adults can take to help children recover from trauma.
Changing Minds hopes to distribute the print ads and videos to teachers, counselors and others thanks to partnerships with the National Education Association, American Pediatric Society, the American Federation of Teachers and others. For example, Robertson said that Changing Minds ads may be placed in publications for Scholastic, a publisher of children’s books that many teachers use.
Next year, the Changing Minds campaign hopes to distribute a curriculum to teachers with ideas about how to work with students who have experienced childhood trauma, according to Robertson.