Children’s Exposure to Violence

childrens exposure to violence Excerpted from the CE Course Children’s Exposure to Violence, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) and Professional Development Resources, 2009.

Children in the United States are more likely to be exposed to violence and crime than are adults. Children are exposed to violence every day in their homes, schools, and communities. They may be struck by a boyfriend, bullied by a classmate, or abused by an adult. They may witness an assault on a parent or a shooting on the street. Such exposure can cause significant physical, mental, and emotional harm with long-term effects that can last well into adulthood.

In 1999, the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) created the Safe Start Initiative to prevent and reduce the impact of children’s exposure to violence through enhanced practice, research, evaluation, training and technical assistance, resources, and outreach. The initiative has improved the delivery of developmentally appropriate services for children exposed to violence and their families.

Understanding the nature and extent of children’s exposure to violence is essential to combating its effects. Partnering with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, OJJDP has sponsored the most comprehensive effort to date to measure children’s exposure to violence. The National Survey of Children’s Exposure to Violence is the first survey to ask children and caregivers about exposure to a range of violent incidents and maltreatment.

Extent of the problem

The survey confirms that most of our society’s children are exposed to violence in their daily lives. More than 60% of the children surveyed were exposed to violence within the past year, either directly or indirectly (i.e., as a witness to a violent act; by learning of a violent act against a family member, neighbor, or close friend; or from a threat against their home or school). Nearly one-half of the children and adolescents surveyed (46.3%) were assaulted at least once in the past year, and more than 1 in 10 (10.2%) were injured in an assault; 1 in 4 (24.6%) were victims of robbery, vandalism, or theft; 1 in 10 (10.2%) suffered from child maltreatment (including physical and emotional abuse, neglect, or a family abduction); and 1 in 16 (6.1%) were victimized sexually.

More than 1 in 4 (25.3%) witnessed a violent act and nearly 1 in 10 (9.8%) saw one family member assault another. Multiple victimizations were common: more than one-third (38.7%) experienced 2 or more direct victimizations in the previous year, more than 1 in 10 (10.9%) experienced 5 or more direct victimizations in the previous year, and more than 1 in 75 (1.4%) experienced 10 or more direct victimizations in the previous year.

Categories of victimization

Conventional crime. Nine types of victimization, including robbery, theft, destruction of property, attack with an object or weapon, attack without an object or weapon, attempted attack, threatened attack, kidnapping or attempted kidnapping, and hate crime or bias attack (an attack on a child because of the child’s or parent’s skin color, religion, physical problem, or perceived sexual orientation).

Child maltreatment. Four types of victimization, including being hit, kicked, or beaten by an adult (other than spanking on the bottom); psychological or emotional abuse; neglect; and abduction by a parent or caregiver, also known as custodial interference.

Peer and sibling victimization. Six types of victimization, including being attacked by a group of children; being hit or beaten by another child, including a brother or sister; being hit or kicked in the private parts; being chased, grabbed, or forced to do something; being teased or emotionally bullied; and being a victim of dating violence.

Sexual victimization. Seven types of victimization, including sexual contact or fondling by an adult the child knew, sexual contact or fondling by an adult stranger, sexual contact or fondling by another child or teenager, attempted or completed intercourse, exposure or “flashing,” sexual harassment, and consensual sexual conduct with an adult.

Witnessing and indirect victimization. These fall into two general categories, exposure to community violence and exposure to family violence. For exposure to community violence, the survey included 10 types of victimization, including seeing someone attacked with an object or weapon; seeing someone attacked without an object or weapon; having something stolen from the household; having a friend, neighbor, or family member murdered; witnessing a murder; witnessing or hearing a shooting, bombing, or riot; being in a war zone; knowing a family member or close friend who was fondled or forced to have sex; knowing a family member or close friend who was robbed or mugged; and knowing a family member or close friend who was threatened with a gun or knife.

For exposure to family violence, eight types of victimization were assessed: seeing a parent assaulted by a spouse, domestic partner, or boyfriend or girlfriend; seeing a brother or sister assaulted by a parent; threat by one parent to assault the other; threat by a parent to damage the other parent’s property; one parent pushing the other; one parent hitting or slapping the other; one parent kicking, choking, or beating up the other; and assault by another adult household member against a child or adult in the household.

School violence and threat. Two types of victimization, including a credible bomb threat against the child’s school and fire or other property damage to the school.

Internet violence and victimization. Two types of victimization, including Internet threats or harassment and unwanted online sexual solicitation.

Key elements of designing an effective response

Children exposed to violence have a variety of complex needs, and the network of child and family interventions must reflect this diversity of needs. It is unrealistic to expect that any single program can promote strength and resilience of children and families, provide interventions to reduce the negative effects of the exposure, and respond to the economic, social, and psychological needs of families. Each system should offer services that are based on its function and focus, work collaboratively with other agencies, and refer families for other services.

Research and program evaluations demonstrate that the best outcomes are achieved when the following response elements are adapted to specific fields of expertise, resources, and constraints:

Early detection and identification. Communities, families, and staff at different entry points should recognize and respond immediately to symptoms of exposure to violence.

Promoting community awareness and educating practitioners. Outreach includes contacting groups of people with information and resources and educating practitioners on core concepts of vulnerability and exposure to violence

Protocols, policies, and procedures. Programs and systems should have specific protocols, policies, and procedures that detail their response to child exposure to violence.

Referrals. Staff should be aware of services provided by other agencies and be able to provide appropriate referrals to these agencies, including mandated reporting to child protective services when required.

Evidence-based interventions. Research and emerging promising practices should inform service delivery.

Critical components of successful interventions include a developmental perspective that engages the child’s and the family’s ecological contexts and service systems to screen for, provide early intervention for, and respond to the treatment needs of children. Effectiveness is bolstered when treatment is offered in a range of settings, such as homes, early care and education programs, and schools, incorporating collaboration with health, law enforcement, legal, child welfare, and other systems.

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Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

Excerpted from the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) Publication Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), 2012.

ADHD Free ResourcesWhat is Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder?

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is one of the most common childhood brain disorders and can continue through adolescence and adulthood. Symptoms include difficulty staying focused and paying attention, difficulty controlling behavior, and hyperactivity (over-activity). These symptoms can make it difficult for a child with ADHD to succeed in school, get along with other children or adults, or finish tasks at home.

Brain imaging studies have revealed that, in youth with ADHD, the brain matures in a normal pattern but is delayed, on average, by about three years. The delay is most pronounced in brain regions involved in thinking, paying attention, and planning. More recent studies have found that the outermost layer of the brain, the cortex, shows delayed maturation overall, and a brain structure important for proper communications between the two halves of the brain shows an abnormal growth pattern. These delays and abnormalities may underlie the hallmark symptoms of ADHD and help to explain how the disorder may develop.

Treatments can relieve many symptoms of ADHD, but there is currently no cure for the disorder. With treatment, most people with ADHD can be successful in school and lead productive lives. Researchers are developing more effective treatments and interventions, and using new tools such as brain imaging, to better understand ADHD and to find more effective ways to treat and prevent it.

What are the symptoms of ADHD in children?

Inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity are the key behaviors of ADHD. It is normal for all children to be inattentive, hyperactive, or impulsive sometimes, but for children with ADHD, these behaviors are more severe and occur more often. To be diagnosed with the disorder, a child must have symptoms for six or more months and to a degree that is greater than other children of the same age.

Children who have symptoms of inattention may:

  • Be easily distracted, miss details, forget things, and frequently switch from one activity to another
  • Have difficulty focusing on one thing
  • Become bored with a task after only a few minutes, unless they are doing something enjoyable
  • Have difficulty focusing attention on organizing and completing a task or learning something new
  • Have trouble completing or turning in homework assignments, often losing things (e.g., pencils, toys, assignments) needed to complete tasks or activities
  • not seem to listen when spoken to
  • Daydream, become easily confused, and move slowly
  • Have difficulty processing information as quickly and accurately as others
  • Struggle to follow instructions


Children who have symptoms of hyperactivity may:

  • Fidget and squirm in their seats
  • Talk nonstop
  • Dash around, touching or playing with anything and everything in sight
  • Have trouble sitting still during dinner, school, and story time
  • Be constantly in motion
  • Have difficulty doing quiet tasks or activities


Children who have symptoms of impulsivity may:

  • Be very impatient
  • Blurt out inappropriate comments, show their emotions without restraint, and act without regard for consequences
  • Have difficulty waiting for things they want or waiting their turns in games
  • Often interrupt conversations or others’ activities

ADHD Can Be Mistaken for Other Problems

Parents and teachers can miss the fact that children with symptoms of inattention have ADHD because they are often quiet and less likely to act out. They may sit quietly, seeming to work, but they are often not paying attention to what they are doing. They may get along well with other children, whereas children who have more symptoms of hyperactivity or impulsivity tend to have social problems. But children with the inattentive kind of ADHD are not the only ones whose disorders can be missed. For example, adults may think that children with the hyperactive and impulsive symptoms just have disciplinary problems.

What Causes ADHD?

Scientists are not sure what causes ADHD, although many studies suggest that genes play a large role. Like many other illnesses, ADHD probably results from a combination of factors. In addition to genetics, researchers are looking at possible environmental factors, and are studying how brain injuries, nutrition, and the social environment might contribute to ADHD.

Genes. Inherited from our parents, genes are the “blueprints” for who we are. Results from several international studies of twins show that ADHD often runs in families. Researchers are looking at several genes that may make people more likely to develop the disorder. Knowing the genes involved may one day help researchers prevent the disorder before symptoms develop. Learning about specific genes could also lead to better treatments.

A study of children with ADHD found that those who carry a particular version of a certain gene have thinner brain tissue in the areas of the brain associated with attention. This research showed that the difference was not permanent, however, and as children with this gene grew up, the brain developed to a normal level of thickness. Their ADHD symptoms also improved.

Researchers are also studying genetic variations that may or may not be inherited, such as duplications or deletions of a segment of DNA. These “copy number variations” (CNVs) can include many genes. Some CNVs occur more frequently among people with ADHD than in unaffected people, suggesting a possible role in the development of the disorder.

Environmental factors. Studies suggest a potential link between cigarette smoking and alcohol use during pregnancy and ADHD in children. In addition, preschoolers who are exposed to high levels of lead, which can sometimes be found in plumbing fixtures or paint in old buildings, have a higher risk of developing ADHD.

Brain injuries. Children who have suffered a brain injury may show some behaviors similar to those of ADHD. However, only a small percentage of children with ADHD have suffered a traumatic brain injury.

Sugar. The idea that refined sugar causes ADHD or makes symptoms worse is popular, but more research discounts this theory than supports it. In one study, researchers gave children foods containing either sugar or a sugar substitute every other day. The children who received sugar showed no different behavior or learning capabilities than those who received the sugar substitute. Another study in which children were given higher than average amounts of sugar or sugar substitutes showed similar results.

In another study, children who were considered sugar-sensitive by their mothers were given the sugar substitute aspartame, also known as Nutrasweet. Although all the children got aspartame, half their mothers were told their children were given sugar, and the other half were told their children were given aspartame. The mothers who thought their children had gotten sugar rated them as more hyperactive than the other children and were more critical of their behavior, compared to mothers who thought their children received aspartame.

Food additives. There is currently no research showing that artificial food coloring causes ADHD. However, a small number of children with ADHD may be sensitive to food dyes, artificial flavors, preservatives, or other food additives. They may experience fewer ADHD symptoms on a diet without additives, but such diets are often difficult to maintain.

More information on ADHD can be found here:

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How To Motivate Reluctant Learners

Free webinar from ASCD!

Thursday, September 22, 2011 3:00 PM – 4:00 PM EDT

Free webinar from ASCD

Click to register!

Traditional advice about motivating reluctant learners rarely works because they rely on complicated programs using rewards and punishments, carrots and sticks. In this webinar, Robyn R. Jackson shares an alternative view of motivation that helps teachers entice students to learn using their own currencies.

Learn what currencies are, how to determine what currencies students carry and value, and how to use the four universal currencies of autonomy, mastery, purpose, and belonging to motivate even your most reluctant learners.

Based on the third workbook in her best-selling series Mastering the Principles of Great Teaching, this webinar will help teachers motivate their reluctant learners to invest in their own learning. By using the mastery principle “Start where your students are,” Jackson will share practical ways to motivate reluctant learners to take ownership over their own learning.

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