On Thursday, June 13, the Coordinating Council on Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention met to discuss prevention of and response to child abuse and trauma. The Council is responsible for coordinating federal juvenile delinquency prevention programs, federal programs and activities that detain or care for unaccompanied juveniles, and federal programs relating to missing and exploited children. Presentations were made by Victor Vieth, Director of Education and Research for the Zero Abuse Project, and Andrea Darr, Director of West Virginia Center for Children’s Justice. Both presenters made a clear statement that policy and practices surrounding child abuse and trauma need to be updated to be more effective and compassionate.
Victor Vieth discussed his experience as a prosecutor in Minnesota and how he noticed that for himself and many others working in Child Protective Services, most of the knowledge base comes from on the job training. There is very little understanding of child abuse, domestic violence, and elderly abuse within the context of undergraduate and graduate education. Even American Psychological Association (APA) accredited courses are not meeting the standards and only 27 percent of medical schools have any abuse training, and it is generally a single presentation with very little information as to what to do with prevention and intervention programs. As a result, currently only 50 percent of identified abused children get investigated. Child Advocacy Studies, or CAST, are programs being implemented at community colleges and universities to have specialized classes to deal with issues like this. CAST programs not only offer lecture based classes, but internships and environmental training that allows students to have hands on practice with realistic situations. There are now 74 CAST programs in the United States, and in testing graduates of the programs, on average they performed as well as experienced social workers in basic cases and better than experienced social workers in complex cases.
Andrea Darr focused on child abuse and trauma specifically in West Virginia, which has 24.6 percent of children living in poverty, the highest rate of neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS), and is considered “ground zero” for the opioid crisis. She said this has led to a three-generational drug exposed problem in West Virginia, causing 60 percent of children to be exposed to violence. Trauma affects a child’s ability to comprehend and learn, so this has had detrimental effects on children’s academic performance. For this reason, the state has implemented the program Handle with Care, which allows for law enforcement to identify children at the scene of a crime and notify the school that the child should be “handled with care” given they have just experienced trauma, without disclosing any details of what happened. Teachers and administrators are also told not to approach the child about the situation to prevent bombarding the child. Handle with Care also works with schools in dealing with traumatized children and getting them therapy on site during the least disruptive part of their day. They also work to bridge the gap between law enforcement and children, so that children see them as less intimidating.