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Troy L. Wheeler

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Strategy: Assisting Child Victims

Strategy Coordination of victim assistance services focused on the developmental needs of child victims of crime or abuse helps . . .

Strategy

Coordination of victim assistance services focused on the developmental needs of child victims of crime or abuse helps prevent additional victimization.

Crime Problem Addressed

Statistics reviewed by the National Council on Crime and Delinquency indicate that "childhood death at the hands of parents or guardians is much more prevalent than children being killed by other children. Estimates indicate that perhaps as many as 5,000 children die each year as a result of mistreatment and abuse from parents and guardians, and over 165,000 children are seriously harmed." A 1995 National Crime Prevention Council (NCPC) publication, Preventing Violence against Women, highlights research on child abuse's long-term effects on victims. The document notes that "being abused as a child increases a person's risk for arrest as a juvenile by 53 percent, as an adult by 38 percent, and for violent crime by 38 percent." These statistics point out the importance of intervening early to mitigate abuse's effects on young victims.

Key Components

Many local and county agencies play a part in addressing the causes of violence, including family violence against youth. Coordinating those services among family courts, health professionals, counselors, prosecutors, and police helps ensure that appropriate services reach all victims in the family. Services for children include age-appropriate counseling, emergency housing for victims of domestic violence, and health evaluations of children from families in which spousal abuse has occurred. Task forces help social service agencies, law enforcement, the court system, health professionals, and school officials understand how to coordinate services that address youth's needs at home and in school.

Key Partnerships

Agencies ability to meet victimized children's needs requires continual policy coordination regarding information sharing, service referrals, and enforcement against adult offenders. Schools and community-based organizations serving families and children should be encouraged to refer parents and children needing assistance to the task force or participating agencies.

Potential Obstacles

Policies, organizational structure, and budget issues sometimes make it difficult to coordinate services. Umbrella organizations that coordinate services for children reduce duplication of services and help meet the needs of child victims by ensuring that adult victims and offenders are treated or prosecuted. In some jurisdictions, one agency's political power, legal authority, or expertise results in its assuming leadership in matters of program coordination and delivery to youth victims.

Signs of Success

In the mid-1980s the staff of Boston's Children's Hospital helped establish Advocacy for Women and Kids in Emergencies (AWAKE). The program trains hospital staff, police officers, social workers, court staff, and nursing students in advocacy for mothers and children from families experiencing domestic violence. Staff of participating agencies help mothers receiving treatment at the hospital obtain legal advice, assistance from the courts, additional medical care, counseling, and help from support groups. The program also conducts counseling sessions and support group discussions specifically for children. Recently the program has expanded to include an advocacy program for women and children in a nearby housing project. In its first week, the housing project program received ten referrals.

Applying the Strategy

In 1992 a planning coalition on crime prevention formed between the grassroots and city government of Corpus Christi, Texas, recommended improved coordination of services to children and families. The Commission on Families and Children developed programs in parent education, child protection, and family support to address concerns about child abuse and the trauma experienced by children and adults when parents divorce. The commission has helped courts, social agencies, police, and schools better coordinate services.

In response to increasing child abuse and violence in schools in 1991, the Mental Health Association of Montgomery County, Maryland, helped organize a panel of local and county agencies to investigate how to better coordinate services to youth and families in the Washington, D.C., suburbs. A conference of mental health, school, police, child welfare, and health service agencies resulted in formation of a task force to investigate how to improve referrals and delivery of services. Task force members successfully petitioned to retain two judgeships in the juvenile court to deal with cases involving children.

From 350 Tested Strategies to Prevent Crime: A Resource for Municipal Agencies and Community Groups

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