Research confirms that children exposed to violence in their home or neighborhood can suffer long-term effects: aggressive behavior, poor performance in school, even stunted brain development.
Counteracting those negative impacts requires "psychiatric first aid," says Dr. Carl Bell, head of the Community Mental Health Council and a key player in the development of a series of animated cartoons and coloring books designed to offer that first aid to those hurting children.
"This is akin to Red Cross physical first aid," Bell says. "If you see somebody choking, everybody would know to run up behind him and do a Heimlich. So why doesn’t everybody know psychiatric first aid? We ought to know that if something horrible happens, (we should encourage people to) verbalize their feelings and thoughts about it."
Bell and a broad coalition of groups, including the Illinois Childhood Trauma Coalition, Illinois Violence Prevention Authority, Chicago Department of Public Health and Chicago Metropolis 2020, hope their new DVD and coloring books series, "Stories for Children that Grownups Can Watch," will help.
The first DVD and coloring book, "Inside Him," tells the story of Eddie, a little boy who needs to talk because he’s "seen some scary things" but he’s keeping it all inside him. The DVD is currently playing on television sets in the 14 waiting rooms outside Cook County courtrooms that oversee child abuse and neglect cases.
Paula Wolff, senior executive of Chicago Metropolis 2020 and chair of the Illinois Childhood Trauma Coalition, hopes that adults who see the DVD will call one of the seven assistance centers to get some help for a child. On a policy level, she says she hopes the DVD will convince policy makers to make more services available to the youngest victims of violence.
For assistance in the Chicago area, call Chicago Safe Start at (312) 745-0381, Child Advocacy Center of North and Northwest Cook County at (888) 774-SAFE (7233) or South Suburban Family Shelter at (708) 371-6730.