STATE OF OPPORTUNITY. Can Kids in Michigan Get Ahead?
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What we know and often ignore about violence in Michigan

Dennis Hill

Because I cover kids and poverty, by necessity I have a high tolerance for news and information others might categorize as depressing.

But I freely admit not all information is equal for me. Information about the effect of violence on children wears on me in a way most of my other work doesn't.

We're putting together a special about how violence affects kids in Michigan, so I've been looking at a lot of these kinds of stories and studies lately. Here are just a few of the themes I've seen over and over in my research. 

It's contagious

Exposure to violence is the No. 1 predictor of later violent behavior. That makes the comparison of violence to an extremely contagious disease an apt and powerful metaphor. The violence interrupters program featured in the popular documentary of the same name is based on this idea of violence as an epidemic.  

Our numbers are bad

It's hard to measure the number of kids affected by violence, and we're not doing a great job. It's easy to get ready access to incident reports of violent crime, and those seem to be decreasing in Michigan. 

But those numbers don't capture how many kids are exposed to violence in their homes, their schools, or their communities that don't end up as crime statistics. 

For example, cases of child abuse and neglect in Michigan are going up, with over 200,000 families investigated in 2012. Even if those cases don't end up being confirmed violent acts (that's true for the vast majority of child abuse investigations), it doesn't mean the experience of being in the child welfare system or having your family investigated by police isn't traumatic for a child.  

What we're doing about violence hasn't caught up with what we know

At Western Michigan University there's a center focused on what's called "trauma informed care." The Southwest Michigan Trauma Assessment Center studies the effects of violence on children's brains, and tries to do something to reverse that damage. 

The science around violence and the brain is similar to and often overlaps with the science around early childhood education. We know what young children's brains, even teenagers' brains, need to start to rewire themselves to help with impulse control and acting out later on.

But many kids who've grown up in violent homes or neighborhoods don't seem to be getting that kind of attention.

We'll continue to explore what's going on in violence prevention in Michigan in the next few weeks, and we invite you to share your experience and your thoughts about violence in Michigan's communities with us. 

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