We can do bet­ter for D.C.’s chil­dren

The Washington Post Sunday - - LOCAL OPINIONS - BY KARL A. RACINE

With the District’s cof­fers brim­ming with ex­cess rev­enue, our of­fi­cials and com­mu­nity lead­ers must de­vise, fund and com­pe­tently im­ple­ment a com­pre­hen­sive strat­egy to treat the trauma that hurts our city’s most vul­ner­a­ble young res­i­dents and breeds the vi­o­lence that af­fects us all — vi­o­lence de­scribed in the April 23 front-page ar­ti­cle “‘Did your fa­ther die?.’ ” That ar­ti­cle de­picted the ex­pe­ri­ences of 8-year-old Tyshaun McPhat­ter and heart­break­ingly de­scribed parts of the na­tion’s cap­i­tal as places where chil­dren live in fear.

At the Of­fice of the At­tor­ney Gen­eral, we come into con­tact with kids such as Tyshaun ev­ery day. Based on that ex­pe­ri­ence, there are three steps we can take quickly.

First, we must in­vest in proven, data-based meth­ods to in­ter­rupt vi­o­lence and ad­dress it as a pub­lic-health cri­sis. Shoot­ings and other vi­o­lence cause long-term dam­age to whole com­mu­ni­ties, ham­per­ing prospects of eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment, trau­ma­tiz­ing chil­dren and trap­ping fam­i­lies in­side their homes out of fear. While height­ened law en­force­ment is nec­es­sary, it is not suf­fi­cient to turn around high-crime com­mu­ni­ties.

Mod­els such as Cure Vi­o­lence are proven. This model has three main com­po­nents.

De­tect and in­ter­rupt po­ten­tially vi­o­lent con­flicts by pre­vent­ing re­tal­i­a­tion and me­di­at­ing simmering dis­putes.

Iden­tify and treat in­di­vid­u­als at the high­est risk for con­flict by pro­vid­ing ser­vices and chang­ing be­hav­ior.

En­gage com­mu­ni­ties in chang­ing norms around vi­o­lence (for in­stance, or­ga­nize com­mu­nity re­sponses to ev­ery shoot­ing to counter nor­mal­iza­tion).

Mul­ti­ple stud­ies have shown that, where im­ple­mented, Cure Vi­o­lence re­sults in re­duc­tions in shoot­ings and vi­o­lent con­fronta­tions. New Or­leans went 200 days with­out a mur­der in its Cure Vi­o­lence sites; Philadel­phia saw sig­nif­i­cant re­duc­tions in shoot­ings in Cure Vi­o­lence ar­eas com­pared with sim­i­lar dis­tricts; and Bal­ti­more’s Cure Vi­o­lence sites saw fewer homi­cides. We must fund a Cure Vi­o­lence­based pro­gram in the District.

Se­cond, the District must in­vest in strate­gies to re­duce and pre­vent child­hood trauma at home. On­go­ing trauma puts a child’s brain in a con­stant fight-or-flight state, mak­ing it hard for other parts of the brain to de­velop prop­erly. Chil­dren ex­pe­ri­ence dif­fi­culty pay­ing at­ten­tion. Un­treated trauma can lead to school fail­ure, higher dropout rates, and ag­gres­sion and other risky be­hav­ior. Ac­cord­ing to the Na­tional Kids Count Data Cen­ter, for chil­dren in the District, rates of abuse and ne­glect — ma­jor con­trib­u­tors to child­hood trauma — are higher than the na­tional av­er­age. In neigh­bor­hoods such as Tyshaun’s, they are dra­mat­i­cally higher.

The District should in­vest in ev­i­dence-based parenting pro­grams that have been proved to re­duce rates of child abuse and ne­glect, such as Triple P (for “Pos­i­tive Parenting Pro­gram”). Triple P draws on ex­ten­sive so­cial sci­ence re­search to help par­ents and has the strong­est ev­i­dence base of any such pro­gram in the coun­try. For in­stance, a Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Preven­tion­funded ran­dom­ized study showed a re­duc­tion in child-abuse and fos­ter­care rates in coun­ties us­ing Triple P com­pared with con­trol lo­ca­tions. This is the kind of sup­port that should be avail­able to ev­ery District fam­ily that needs it.

Third, the District must in­vest more re­sources in pro­grams and ser­vices that treat the ef­fects of trauma be­fore chil­dren make con­tact with the court sys­tem. Ther­a­peu­tic early in­ter­ven­tions, when in­sti­tuted in a com­pre­hen­sive man­ner, have im­proved pub­lic safety. For in­stance, since I took of­fice, we have in­creased the rate at which we di­vert low-level ju­ve­nile of­fend­ers into the D.C. Depart­ment of Hu­man Ser­vices’ Al­ter­na­tives to the Court Ex­pe­ri­ence (ACE) pro­gram. This pro­gram of­fers in­ten­sive ser­vices for six months, tai­lored to an in­di­vid­ual child’s needs. Of the ap­prox­i­mately 1,000 kids who have com­pleted the ACE pro­gram, more than 80 per­cent have not been re­ar­rested. That’s an ex­tra­or­di­nary suc­cess rate in ju­ve­nile jus­tice.

The same ap­proach should be used to pro­vide qual­ity psy­chi­atric ser­vices for chil­dren, in­crease trauma-in­formed prac­tices for schools and pro­vide other sup­ports to chil­dren be­fore they find them­selves in trou­ble.

My col­leagues and I do not pre­tend to have all the an­swers. But we owe it to our young peo­ple to give them what they need to be­come re­silient, thriv­ing, con­tribut­ing mem­bers of our com­mu­nity. We must fo­cus our re­sources to meet the cri­sis fac­ing our chil­dren. No child in this city should have to face the fear that young Tyshaun and his peers face ev­ery day.


Tyshaun McPhat­ter, 8, runs across a bal­ance beam dur­ing school re­cess in March.

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