1996 Finalist
City of Boston, Massachusetts
Innovations in American Government Awards
Innovations in American Government Awards

In the early 1990s, Boston City Hospital (BCH) conducted a study showing that ten percent of the children that came to the hospital for pediatric care had witnessed a knifing or shooting by the age of six. Witnessing violence profoundly alters a child's world and is associated with learning and socialization difficulties, posttraumatic stress disorder, and increased risk for engaging in violent behavior later in life. In light of these findings, pediatric mental health professionals at BCH understood that to stave off the effects of early exposure to violence, intervention would have to be early as well.

BCH founded the Child Witness to Violence Project (CWVP) to address this need. The program consists of two main components: seminars for frontline police officers and the specialization of BCH clinicians for the immediate treatment of young witnesses of violence. CWVP's main goal is the establishment of collaborative linkages with the Boston Police Department to enhance the ability of officers to act as first responders to children who have experienced traumatic and violent events by offering early intervention.

The foundation of the collaboration is an eight-week seminar, which meets for two hours each week. The meetings bring together groups of six to eight police officers and staff from CWVP. The seminar highlights a different topic each week, presenting information about child development, mental health issues in children, cultural issues and family violence, as well as specific referral resources and information. All of this information contributes to a more timely assessment and treatment of traumatized children by pediatric clinicians.

A multicultural, multilingual staff of social workers, psychologists, and early childhood specialists comprises the clinical component of CWVP. It is run within the Department of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics at BCH. CWVP's grouping of specialized professionals allows it to provide both more effective early intervention and well-rounded, long-term counseling of afflicted children and their families. CWVP's professional staff also provides national and state-focused training for healthcare professionals.

Between 1995 and 1996, CWVP trained twenty-four officers. Before attending the seminars, fifty percent of police officers thought that their role with children was to assess abuse and neglect and to report it to proper authorities when necessary. After the training, all officers saw and understood their role in a broader capacity. These officers state that their behavioral changes include increased sensitivity towards children, enhanced follow-up visits, heightened interest in the effects of violence, and procedural changes such as making sure children are not near lines of fire when officers are responding to a situation.

Since the program's inception in 1992, nearly two-hundred children have been treated and the current active counseling caseload is fifty families. Although progress assessments can only be indicated qualitatively, the response from parents, teachers and professionals to the impact of CWVP on traumatized children has been very positive. CWVP cites itself as working to prevent the intergenerational perpetuation of violent behaviors in children. The measurement of progress in this respect is difficult, but there is consensus that the program has had a positive effect in this area.