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Inoculating our children against violence

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At Whittier Street Health Center, we often treat adults and children after they have witnessed extensive violence or been victims of abuse, recent or in the past. Within Whittier’s Behavioral Health Program, we decided to expand our focus to include prevention and the teaching of coping skills to help our adults and children avoid trauma, manage it in adaptive ways and make healthy choices. We were awarded a one year grant from Children’s Hospital for training, supplies, curricula and implementation of Inoculation Against Violence groups for preschoolers and pre-adolescents. In addition, the grant includes support for simultaneous parent groups, helping parents process events and educating them on how to help their children understand and cope with their traumatic experiences.

Our trainings have led to wonderful collaborations for Whittier. Along the way, we were trained by Roxbury’s Renewal House, a domestic violence program, in the art of running groups for adults and their children who have been affected by domestic violence. Art from our Decision Arts group for teens now hangs on the walls at Renewal House. Next, we were trained for three days by the talented team at Boston Medical Center’s Child Witness to Violence Project including Betsy McAlister Groves, LICSW; Maxine Weinreb, Ed.D; and Gail Arnold, LMHC.

As a result of our trainings, we were invited to collaborate with the BMC Child Witness to Violence team. Whittier Street Health Center became a designated community-based site for a BMC Child Witness to Violence group for preschoolers.  Powerplay©, a therapeutic play group, will be offered for three to six year olds beginning in October for eight weekly sessions. This group is designed to help preschoolers who have been exposed to stressors such as domestic or community violence or other traumatic events. The goals of the group are to build self-esteem, provide social skills, practice self-control, and have fun. This group is covered by grant funding. As part of the Children’s Hospital grant, we will add a parent group, which will run simultaneously with Powerplay©. In the parent group, adults will learn to deal with their own fears and those of their children.

In addition, we will run Inoculation Against Violence groups for 9-11 year olds and, separately, their parents. These groups will run in the afternoon for eight weeks beginning in late October. The two groups will be led by a psychologist, a social worker, a domestic violence advocate and an art therapist. The focus of these groups will be to help adults and their children avoid trauma, to give them skills to deal with potential violence in their lives and to help them make healthy choices.

For older girls, Decision Arts is a Whittier Street Health Center art-based violence prevention program designed to reach girls ages 12 to 16, who are affected by violence.  Decision Arts incorporates creative arts and peer leadership, with education on healthy life choices and essential life skills. In this group, the Decision Arts girls present a public exhibition titled “Through Our Eyes.”  They display their stories, perspectives and changes on canvas, presenting what they need to live in a sometimes violent world.  As a result of their experiences in the group, past members have become proactive in solving violence problems in their neighborhoods.

If you are interested in participating in one of these programs, please contact:

• Power Play© for 3 to 6 year olds/parent group
October 2010
Juanita Simms, BMC Child Witness to Violence Project at 617-414-4522

• Inoculation Against Violence for 9-11 year olds/parent group
October 2010
Jane Brodie, Ph.D. at 617-989-3077

• Decision Arts for 12 to 16 yr old girls
Sept. 24, 2010
Phillip Speiser, Ph.D. at 617-989-3135