Defending Childhood

Defending Childhood

AG's National Task Force on Children Exposed to Violence

The Attorney General's National Task Force on Children Exposed to Violence has released their final report and recommendations.

Executive Summary

Full Report (PDF)

A Message From Attorney General Eric Holder

Since the launch of the Defending Childhood Initiative in 2010 the Justice Department has been working with leading researchers to take an in-depth look at the problem of children exposed to violence. What we have learned has been a wake-up call, and warning bell, for all of us. We found that the majority of our kids – more than 60 percent – have been exposed to crime, abuse, and violence — many in their own homes. Ten percent of children in the United States have suffered some form of abuse or neglect; one in sixteen has been victimized sexually. And both direct and indirect exposure to violence is having a profound negative impact on the mental and emotional development of young people across the country.

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What Can Parents Do?

The best way to help children is to make sure that they feel safe (for example, creating a predictable environment, encouraging them to express their feelings by listening and hearing their stories) and ensuring that they know that the violence they witnessed or experienced was not their fault. Ways you can help children cope with the impact of exposure to violence include:

  • Remaining calm and reinforcing a stable and safe environment;
  • Keeping a regular schedule or routine for meals, quiet time, playtime, and bedtime;
  • Helping children prepare for changes and new experiences;
  • Spending more time together as a family;
  • Being patient and letting children identify and express feelings; and
  • Providing extra attention, comfort, and encouragement.

Tips for Parents and Caregivers

What Can Teachers Do?

Teachers can play a critical role in preventing and reducing the impact of exposure to violence on children. They can help children by creating a predictable environment, listening to students' stories, and assuring children and adolescents that whatever happened was not their fault. Specific ways to help children exposed to violence include knowing and watching for signs of possible exposure to violence. No single behavior proves that a child has been exposed to violence, but teachers can watch for:

  • Physical signs such as bruises;
  • Unexplained changes in behavior; and
  • Emotional signs such as depression, mood swings, and fearful or anxious behavior.

Tips for Teachers