Baltimore program aids youth in violence's wake

THE BALTIMORE SUN

City police, Johns Hopkins health experts and community leaders are teaming up to help diminish the impact of violence on juveniles who often get a harsh look at the city's uglier side.

Through the Child Development Community Policing program, or CDCP, officials are stepping in to help children when they've been victims of, or witnesses to, violence.

The program, started here in 1996, aims to help people deal with the emotions and stress that violence brings, said Dr. Laura Seidel, clinical director of the program.

"We go and meet the family at the scene or in the hospital to help them deal with the trauma of the injury as well as the emotions that go along with that," she said. "Those emotions often include anxiety, fear, anger and sometimes plans for retaliation."

Seidel said follow-up home visits are also provided to families at no cost, as well as outside referrals such as counseling or school referrals or in-home services, if necessary.

"I definitely think there's a need for this program because there's a high level of violence in Baltimore, both in the neighborhoods and in the schools, which the children are witnessing on a daily basis," Seidel said.

Yesterday, the Rev. Willie Armstrong, CDCP director, spent time putting up fliers in Brooklyn where a pit bull killed a 2-week-old infant last week. Meanwhile, Baltimore Officer Essex R. Weaver, community activist Balinda Hairston and Jabir Pasha, a clinician with CDCP, visited 11-year-old Quincy Lewis at Johns Hopkins Hospital. The Northeast Baltimore boy was wounded Monday night in a drive-by shooting while playing football with his older brother.

And last month, CDCP officials assisted the parents of Lourdes Robinson, a 2-year-old girl who was left critically injured after a car struck her. Police say the car's driver, Terrell Johnson, 19, was speeding from the scene of a shooting when the vehicle struck the child.

The program was developed as a partnership with the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health after police realized that young people who were victims or witnesses to violence often became violent perpetrators themselves, said Lt. Rick Hite, commander of community outreach with the Police Department's Community Affairs Division.

"We walked the streets and neighborhoods where violence had occurred, offering free counseling and stressing the importance of safety and the fact that the police were concerned about the well being of children in the community," said Hite, who has been involved with CDCP since its inception.

Hite said officials also talk with parents to try to help them understand what their children may be experiencing.

"When a child has been traumatized, we tell parents it's not uncommon for small children to become clingy or to experience nightmares ... and for older teens, it's not uncommon for them to act out or to become unruly or angry," Hite said.

Also important is trying to help stem the tide of violence.

"We know we cannot reach every child in the city, however we have seen a substantial improvement in the children whose lives we touched," Hite said. "I think we have appealed to folk at the time they're at a crossroads and feel they need to do something, they need to respond. We've been able to get them to understand why they're feeling what they're feeling and get them to rethink their actions."

Hite said there's more to the program than talking and letting people vent.

After Angela and Carnell Dawson and their five children were killed in an arson at their home in October, police, health officials and community leaders took children from the Dawson's Oliver Street neighborhood skating, Hite said.

They also arranged special activities for the children at Knox Presbyterian Church and the Oliver Multipurpose Center, and they took the children to a June book signing held by Lombard Middle School students who had expressed their thoughts about violence in a 32-page collection of poetry and reflections.

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