Because the children in our communities truly are the future of our communities, we all have a stake in providing what they need for healthy development. And we now know that because brains are built from the bottom up, much like a house, the foundations for all social, emotional and intellectual development happen very early in life.

We also know that certain experiences, such as severe or repeated exposure to violence and trauma, can damage the brain’s architecture, with profound impacts on all of the development that follows. In recent years, research has made significant contributions to our understanding of how to effectively address childhood exposure to violence.

Because October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, we felt it an important opportunity to share with the Portland community what we know about the impact of domestic violence on children, and what is being done here in Portland to both prevent and address violence and trauma.

We know that experiencing violence does not affect all children in precisely the same ways, because of the characteristics of the particular child – such as his or her age – as well as characteristics of the violence the child has experienced – such as the frequency, the duration and the nature of the violence.

At the same time, we also know that certain supports and treatments can help all children regardless of their circumstances. You might think of children’s well-being as like a balanced scale – but even if a lot of things are stacked on the negative side, we can pile on positive factors to tip the scale and achieve balance.

For example, ensuring that a child has a positive and secure relationship with a caring adult can significantly reduce the negative effects of trauma. There are also evidence-based, clinical treatments that have been shown to buffer the impact of violence and build children’s resilience.

That is why it is so important that communities put in place strategies that improve the well-being of children who have experienced violence, as well as those that help adults understand the role they can play in preventing and reducing the impacts of violence. Portland Defending Childhood is an initiative in our community that seeks to achieve that balance and build resilience in children exposed to violence. We provide prevention training and education in schools and places of work, as well as treatment and services for those who have experienced violence.

Portland Defending Childhood also partners closely with Family Crisis Services, our local domestic violence resource agency. Since 1977, Family Crisis Services has been working to end abuse through safety programming, advocacy, education and prevention work and is committed to serving all victims of domestic abuse, including children who experience or witness domestic violence.

We know that we are far more likely to reach those in need when we have an integrated, not a piecemeal, approach to reducing violence in our communities.

That is why Portland Defending Childhood is increasing its outreach efforts across our community, reaching out to collaborate further with community leaders, providers, teachers and health professionals to ensure that they are aware of our programs and services for children and families, and to improve our understanding of other resources in the community that might benefit those we serve. We know the best way to improve outcomes for all children is to improve understanding and build skills at the community level.

If you are part of a program that works with children, please consider how a partnership with Portland Defending Childhood might enhance your work and your team, and give us a call. Or if you are an adult who is concerned about children and would like to discuss ways you might offer support to children in our community, we would love to hear from you, too.

And for all residents of Portland, we want you to know that there are proven treatments available to children in need right here in our city.

— Special to the Press Herald