A parent can cover their child's eyes when there is violence on television, but who will do that for a child when they're exposed to real-life trauma? That is the question United Way is answering with its 2-1-1 community access line, a 24-hour help number that's part of Cuyahoga County’s Defending Childhood initiative.
United States Attorney General Eric Holder and Cuyahoga County Executive Edward FitzGerald hosted a news conference September 28 at Martin Luther King Jr. High School to announce a $2 million Justice Department grant that will aid Defending Childhood programs including the community access line.
The phone line is manned by United Way staff members. These trained staffers determine if Defending Childhood services can help a child who has witnessed violence or experienced trauma. Diagnosing and treating children who have lived through violence can be a significant step in helping them avoid trouble later in life, says Stephen Wertheim, president/CEO of United Way.
"The trauma a kid goes through can impact their function in society," Wertheim says. "We're trying to get to these problems at the root."
While at the high school event, Holder participated in a round-table discussion with students and teachers. He later met with a group of law enforcement officers and social workers that were also on hand.
The impact of violence on children has reached "national crisis" proportions, Holder told the audience during the Sept. 28 conference. Assessing and screening the young people victimized by violence must take precedence over merely prosecuting those perpetrating the trauma.
Studies have shown how post-traumatic stress can negatively effect children, says FitzGerald.
"If a child witnesses horrific acts of violence, they're more likely to be involved in the justice system themselves," says the county executive. Through a preventative measure like the 2-1-1 help line, "the idea is to increase public safety rather than just incarcerating everyone."
SOURCE: Stephen Wertheim, Ed FitzGerald
WRITER: Douglas J. Guth