Tackling Youth Violence Head On

A CHOP initiative is fast becoming a national model for hospital-led youth violence prevention

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A few months into sixth grade, Chedaya got a brand-new pair of sneakers. She loved them. But so did a girl in her class, who suddenly started bullying her about them.

Chedaya had never been in a fight. But when the girl challenged her over the shoes, she felt pressured to stand up for herself.

“I was scared, but I didn’t want to look scared,” Chedaya says.

She met the girl in a park near school, where she was punched in the face, stomach and legs, and her braids were pulled out. Another student filmed the fight and posted it on Instagram — an online social networking site — for all to see.

tackle-youth-violence-sneakers-860x483In sixth grade, Chedaya was bullied over the sneakers she is shown holding here. The bullying turned violent, landing Chedaya in CHOP’s Emergency Department, where she was connected to the Hospital’s Violence Intervention Program and set on the path to recovery.

Her mom arrived to find Chedaya physically and emotionally shaken. She took her to CHOP’s Emergency Department (ED), just a short drive away. In many other emergency rooms, Chedaya likely would have been treated for her physical wounds and sent on her way. But in CHOP’s ED, while a medical team cared for her physical symptoms, a social worker also tended to her emotional ones, connecting the family with CHOP’s Violence Intervention Program (VIP).

Breaking the Cycle

Aggressive behavior is a common issue facing today’s youth, involving almost one-third of adolescents. VIP capitalizes on the teachable moment for youth ages 8 through 18 who seek medical care in the ED after a violent event, in an effort to reduce re-injury and retaliation. It’s just one aspect of CHOP’s Violence Prevention Initiative, a Hospital-wide effort to interrupt the cycle of youth violence, which also includes programs in schools and the community. With a multidisciplinary team made up of some of the nation’s foremost experts in violence intervention, anti-bullying methods and trauma-informed care, CHOP is uniquely positioned to take on this issue and is fast becoming a national model for hospital-led youth violence prevention.

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1 in 4 kids is bullied sometime during their adolescence.

– National Center for Education and Bureau of Justice statistic

“As an institution that exists to promote the health and well-being of children and as the nation’s leading pediatric hospital, it is our responsibility to find ways to prevent this epidemic from spreading,” said Steven M. Altschuler, M.D., CHOP CEO, at the launch of the initiative last year. “We hope to find ways to stop the violence that is taking such a toll on children and families in our community.”

For its part, VIP provides emotional and social support for youth and their families through intensive case management services, helping youth exposed to violence deal with their emotions and reactions to difficult social situations, and increasing self-esteem and leadership skills. VIP applies a trauma-informed approach that considers previous traumatic experiences families bring with them to this recovery process, which can impact how they respond to supportive efforts.

“Violence is cyclical,” says CHOP violence prevention specialist Laura Vega, M.S.W., L.S.W. “It is our goal to interrupt that cycle so that healing can begin.”

On the Mend

The fight left Chedaya feeling a confusing mix of emotions, from sad and fearful to angry and vengeful. Vega connected her with an individual therapist, as well as a group therapy program with other adolescent girls who had been through similar experiences.

“I started expressing my feelings more,” says the soft-spoken teen. “And the other girls in the group gave me tips and advice, because they were all older than me. They talked to me about the other road to go on … that I don’t have to prove anything.”

tackle-violence-group-860x483CHOP violence prevention specialist Laura Vega, M.S.W., L.S.W., and Chedaya’s mom, Catina, (pictured here with Chedaya) helped her overcome the bullying and violence she experienced at school.

Chedaya recently finished writing a book with her therapist, with a chapter that details the experience, and is now at a Mastery Charter School in Philadelphia, where she has made new friends and plans to try dance and cheerleading for the first time.

“I’m happy I got connected to VIP. They helped me a lot,” she says. “I think it will help other kids that are going through what I went through.”

CHOP is a non-profit charity, and depends on donors like you to continue to provide What’s Next for the patients and families we serve.
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