Defending Childhood: A National Effort to Reduce Exposure to Violence

January 1, 2013

Joe Torre, the baseball player and former New York Yankees manager, had "a lot of insecurity and a lot of fear growing up."

"I figured I was just born that way. It wasn't until I was 55 years old, right before I took the Yankee managing job when my wife, who was 8 months pregnant with our daughter, asked me to go to a seminar," he says. "I found myself after two days standing in front of perfect strangers, crying my eyes out. At that point, I connected the dots of my feelings growing up ... and realized what was going on in my house. My my dad was abusing my mom."

Children who are exposed to violence—as direct victims or as witnesses, as Torree was—can suffer devastating setbacks in their development. They are at higher risk for depression, anxiety, behavioral problems, and poorer concentration and school performance.

The longer-term impacts may surprise you. Recent data has documented a connection between early exposure to violence and later life problems such as substance abuse, arrest and certain forms of cancer and other diseases. The Adverse Childhood Experiences Study documents these connections.

It's no small problem. In fact, more than 60 percent of the children surveyed in the most recent National Survey of Children Exposed to Violence were exposed to violence in the past year.

Torre was lucky. His skill at playing baseball kept him on track and ultimately landed him a successful career. "If I didn’t have that ability," he muses, "I have no idea. I don't know who I would follow."

Results from the Two-Year Effort

In 2009, the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released the findings from the first-ever National Survey of Children’s Exposure to Violence.

With that information in hand, Attorney General Eric Holder launched the Defending Childhood initiative in September 2010.  A National Task Force on Children Exposed to Violence was convened as part of this initiative, and tasked with understanding the issues and identifying the most effective and scalable interventions.

The taskforce, comprising leading experts from diverse fields and perspectives, held a series of four public hearings in 2011 and 2012, which gave people a chance to hear from experts, researchers and survivors of violence, and included time for testimony from the public.

The final hearing was held in December 2012, and featured Joe Torre and other taskforce members and experts on youth development.

The hearing coincided with the release of recommendations and a final report that draws attention to the crisis of violence affecting children and youth, as well as important links between child trauma and court involvement.

Hearing From Youth Themselves

Over the past several years, taskforce members, including Torre himself, spoke with experts, medical professionals, families and youth across the nation.

In a conversation with self-described gang members in Detroit, Torre asked if there was anything they'd like the Attorney General to know? "One young man basically said, 'Yes, tell him to come talk to us.'"

Kids and youth are part of the solution, Torre says and we have let them be heard. "When we talk to kids, a lot of imme it’s like we’re preaching. [I think of it as] like  a manager talking to players, I try to involve players to help me get a point across."

Learn More

  • Find the full report here (PDF format).
  • Learn more about the Task Force and get their specific resources for teachers and parents of youth exposed to violence in the link below.