This is the first of a three-part series that will examine the increasing violence on children in America, and its impact on their development, and the future of our nation.
The announcement from the White House, Friday, that First Lady Michelle Obama will attend the funeral, this Saturday, of 15-year-old Hadiya Pendleton, who was shot after taking school examinations, as she, and friends, sheltered themselves from the rain, on Chicago’s Southside, adds a grace note to an otherwise tragic loss of life as gun violence continues to plague, the nation; and in Chicago, in particular, as the homicide rate soars, and Mayor Emanuel and the police superintendent struggle to get a grip on the escalating violence.
Coming so soon after the massacre of 20 school-age children in Newton, CT Pendleton’s murder highlighted both the tragedy of continued gun violence in America, but also the real need for reform of not only gun laws, but also to focus on the mental health needs, and treatment of children across the developmental spectrum.
How, and what shape these efforts will take, might depend on both the political will of the nation, and the strong push given by President Barack Obama, as he said, so poignantly, in a speech, Monday, in Minneapolis, “We’re not going to wait until the next Newtown.”
Paul Schewe, director of the University of Illinois at Chicago’s Interdisciplinary Center for Research on Violence, and associate research professor of criminology, law and justice, told us that, “In the wake of this and other disasters, there is often a rush to simple solutions; install metal detectors, arm citizens, disarm citizens, hire more security guards, etc. Clearly, the problem of violence is complex, and will require a multifaceted solution that will involve the efforts of governmental agencies, non-profit agencies, grass-roots organizations, schools, universities, community groups, law enforcement, businesses, and policy-makers.”
But, put in perspective, these shootings also show that not only must we as a nation address the violence in our schools, and streets, but also as part and parcel of taking care of our most vulnerable, and valuable human capital: our children.
Much of the lives, of our children, and young people, are lived in the context of the nation’s schools, and to that affect, we spoke with Cassandra McKay-Jackson, Assistant Professor, Jane Addams College of Social Work, at UIC, who told us in an e-mail interview that “Interestingly enough, the CDC reports that less than 1 % of all homicides of school age youth actually happen on school grounds or even to and from school. Yet, what we know is one school shooting is too many.”
Yet, as many sociologists, and academics have noted, schools, especially academic success, is vital to future earnings, McKay notes that “the most accurate predictor of school success is based on the student’s family ability to create an home environment that encourages learning, express high expectations for student’s achievement, and become involved in the student’s education in school and their communities.”
And, in an economic climate that is still struggling to regain, even a modicum sense of equilibrium, then this is made even more difficult for families to succeed, especially lower-income families that face barriers that are seemingly insurmountable, yet as McKay stresses, “Even when parents are living within a shelter if there is a strong connection to the school, it is still possible for youth to find a sense of security.”
The safety debate, like much of current American life, is sure to be politicized, and stratified; and with the powerful influence of the National Rifle Association’s lobbyists, it is going to be a battlefield as educators, law enforcement, and elected officials wrestle each other in the public arena.
One area that violence prevention can help is the reduction of violence that children see, and in some areas, nearly each day. As the headlines blare the death rates, it seems that the reaction of the loss of their friends on their emotional lives may have been neglected.
Schewe notes that “Our jails are filled with adults who grew up in violent homes where they witnessed violence between their parents or were physically, sexually, and emotionally abused themselves. Exposure to violence impacts the cognitive and physical development of young children. The problem of children's exposure to violence needs to be treated as the public health epidemic that it is, and addressed in the same universal fashion that we address polio and other childhood diseases.”
McKay says, “Schools are the settings in which children’s mental and behavioral health needs are first identified. According to the National Mental Health Association, fewer than one in five of the 17.5 million children in need of mental health services
actually receive the needed services.”
In the next part we’ll examine more closely the types of schools that children attend, the effort to privatize public education, and talk to people whose lives are impacted by the changes, and hear from school social workers,.
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