OJJDP News @ A GlanceOJP seal
OJJDP News @ A Glance
September | October 2009

printer friendly version button   Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention  ·  Jeff Slowikowski, Acting Administrator
Department of Justice Releases OJJDP Bulletin Summarizing Survey Results on Children’s Exposure to Violence
Children's Exposure to Violence

More than 60 percent of the Nation's youth have been exposed to violence within the past year, either directly or indirectly by witnessing a violent act; learning of a violent act against a family member, neighbor, or close friend; or experiencing a threat against their home and school. The types of violence children were exposed to included assault with a weapon and/or injury, sexual victimization, child maltreatment, and dating violence. Nearly 1 in 2 were physically assaulted at least once in the past year, with more than 1 in 10 injured in an assault. These are just a few of the disturbing facts emerging from the National Survey of Children's Exposure to Violence (NatSCEV), the most comprehensive study of its kind. The NatSCEV study was funded by OJJDP's Safe Start initiative and supported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

On October 7, the Department of Justice released the new OJJDP Bulletin, Children's Exposure to Violence: A Comprehensive National Survey, which summarizes the findings of the pioneering NatSCEV study. The availability of the Bulletin was announced in a press conference by Jeff Slowikowski, OJJDP’s Acting Administrator; David Finkelhor, Director of the Crimes Against Children Research Center, University of New Hampshire; Kristen Kracke, OJJDP’s Safe Start Initiative Coordinator and Program Coordinator; and Rebecca T. Leeb, an epidemiologist with the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Attorney General Eric Holder, who was in Chicago on October 7 to meet with local officials, parents, and students to discuss the fatal beating of Derrion Albert, a 16-year-old honor-roll student, referred to the results of the NatSCEV study as “staggering.”

“Those numbers are astonishing, and they are unacceptable,” Holder said. “We simply cannot stand for an epidemic of violence that robs our youth of their childhood and perpetuates a cycle in which today’s victims become tomorrow’s criminals.”

NatSCEV is the first comprehensive attempt to measure children's exposure to all types of violence in the home, school, and community across age groups from birth to age 17 and the first attempt to measure the cumulative exposure to violence over a child's lifetime. The reports of lifetime exposure indicate how certain types of exposure change and accumulate as a child grows up.

In interviews conducted by the University of New Hampshire's (UNH's) Crimes Against Children Research Center between January and May 2008, NatSCEV gathered data on both past-year and lifetime exposure to violence across a number of categories, including physical assault, bullying, sexual victimization, child maltreatment, dating violence, and witnessed and indirect victimization.

Following are just a few more of the NatSCEV findings:

  • One in four of the children and adolescents surveyed were victims of robbery, vandalism, or theft during the past year.
  • One in 10 suffered from child maltreatment (including physical and emotional abuse, neglect, or a family abduction).
  • One in 16 were victimized sexually.
  • Nearly 1 in 10 saw one family member assault another.
  • Multiple victimizations were common: more than one-third experienced 2 or more direct victimizations in the previous year; more than 1 in 10 experienced 5 or more direct victimizations in the previous year; and more than 1 in 50 experienced 10 or more direct victimizations in the previous year.

Reports of lifetime exposure to violence were generally about one-third to one-half higher than reports of past-year exposure. Nearly seven in eight children (more than 86 percent) who reported being exposed to violence during their lifetime also reported being exposed to violence during the last year, which indicated that these children were at ongoing risk of victimization.

OJJDP will produce a series of bulletins jointly with CDC to highlight the findings from NatSCEV. UNH researchers will examine a range of issues from the survey data such as co-occurrence of family violence, risk factors for exposure to violence in the community, multiple victimization, and correlates of victimization and mental health. The Bulletin series will highlight key findings from these various analyses for practitioners, researchers, and policymakers working on behalf of youth and families experiencing or at risk of violence.

OJJDP’s Decade-Long Commitment to Preventing and Reducing the Impacts of Children’s Exposure to Violence

Safe Start logo

For more than 10 years, OJJDP has been a national leader in addressing the issue of children's exposure to violence. Under the leadership of then Deputy Attorney General Holder in June 1999, OJJDP launched the Safe Start initiative to broaden knowledge about and promote community investment in evidence-based strategies for reducing the impact of children's exposure to violence. The initiative's Safe Start Center serves as a national resource for information and training to communities implementing these strategies.

The Safe Start initiative is expanding partnerships among family- and youth-serving agencies such as early childhood education/development, health, mental health, child welfare, family support, substance abuse prevention/intervention, domestic violence/crisis intervention, law enforcement, the courts, and legal services.

Each component of the Safe Start initiative is designed with a specific goal:

  • Practice and Innovation has expanded the system of care to children exposed to violence.
  • Research and Evaluation is identifying what works and what does not in lessening and preventing the harmful effects of exposure.
  • Training and Technical Assistance is building a base of effective strategies to address children's exposure to violence.
  • Resource Development and Outreach is promoting the adoption and use of these strategies across the Nation.

As part of its Practice and Innovation effort, OJJDP funded 11 demonstration sites from 2000 to 2006 nationwide. The sites were designed to improve the accessibility, delivery, and quality of services for children exposed to violence and their families at any point of entry. These system changes helped improve outcomes for children by increasing identification of and access to services and awareness of the impact of children's exposure to violence. Findings vary across communities; however, some found they were able to reduce trauma symptoms in children, parenting stress, and even at times the amount of violence children were experiencing.

In the second phase of Practice and Innovation (2005–2010), OJJDP has funded 15 Promising Approaches Pilot Sites, which currently are focusing on implementing and measuring developmentally appropriate services for children exposed to violence within the context of the systems that serve them. A process and outcome evaluation of these sites is increasing knowledge about how specific intervention strategies affect outcomes for children and families.

OJJDP's Safe Start Center oversees the training and technical assistance and resource development/outreach components of the Safe Start initiative. The center works with national partners and a multidisciplinary group of experts to broaden the scope of knowledge and resources available to providers, advocates, and families. The center provides and disseminates information on emerging practice and research concerning children exposed to violence and builds awareness of the issue. Additionally, the Safe Start Center provides training, technical assistance, and consultation support to communities—including national teleconferences, a national database of consultants with specific technical and content expertise, Web site dissemination, and multimedia education such as webinars, workshops, and presentations to increase skills, knowledge, and awareness about issues concerning children exposed to violence.


For information about how to order a print copy or to download the OJJDP Bulletin, Children's Exposure to Violence: A Comprehensive National Survey, please see the New Publications section of the newsletter.