Does Prevention Work?Written by Victoria Berryhill
A child’s environment (both physical and emotional) is key to brain development and to a child’s ability to cope with trauma. Prevention services like those offered through SAFE foster an environment that prevents—or helps reverse—long-term psychological damage and negative social behaviors, like abusive and violent tendencies.
So, does prevention work? And if it does, how do we know? We know from research and from the stories of those who’ve lived it. Stories like Susan’s.*
Susan’s husband abused her and her children. Research tells us that two of the most consistent factors associated with future violent outcomes as a victim or perpetrator are child abuse and exposure to domestic violence but leaving was not a safe option at the time. Susan struggled to cope with domestic violence while trying to help her children cope with their own mental health crises stemming from this complicated and highly tumultuous situation. Susan struggled, and her children suffered because of it.
Susan’s oldest son sought more attention from his mother to help cope with his fear of his father and to process the trauma he experienced at home. He constantly needed reassurance that he was safe and loved. Her youngest daughter dealt with the trauma by asserting her independence, and Susan struggled to maintain control.
Tasks that most parents find challenging but obligatory became a nightly, overwhelming battle. Susan’s daughter hated bath time and threw tantrums each night. Susan, feeling overpowered, exhausted, and afraid of her husband’s rage, would eventually give up. Instead, she would wash her daughter with wipes. Susan knew not regularly bathing her children was a failure on her part as a mother, but she didn’t know how to overcome it. She didn’t know how to overcome her own trauma and grief, and she didn’t know how to help her children overcome it. The nightly fights worsened and she worried what further damage this would do to her children.
Susan needed help. She needed intervention. She needed prevention. She needed SAFE.
She began working with a Parent Child Specialist (PCS) through Strong Start, a program of SAFE, who recognized the deeper family dynamics and helped Susan develop positive parenting techniques for use during crisis periods like bath time. The PCS encouraged Susan to have her daughter give her bunny a bath. When she did, Susan’s daughter became accustomed to the water and learned that bathing could be fun. Now, Susan, Susan’s daughter, and the bunny all love bath time!
Eliminating the bath time battles alleviated stress from Susan and she could work with the PCS to safely plan an exit from the violent home. Through prevention services, she could change their environment and prevent her children from further developing negative social behaviors, like overassertive dominance in her daughter, and excessive attachment in her son. Eventually, with the change in environment (physical and emotional), her son began to learn that love and constant attention were not synonymous.
Prevention can be hard to measure and quantify, but the science and research support it. The people we serve each day, people like Susan and her children, prove that prevention works. Does prevention work? Yes, absolutely.
*Names have been changed in order to protect those whose stories we share.