Police and mental health professionals. Collaborative responses to the impact of violence on children and families

Child Adolesc Psychiatr Clin N Am. 1998 Jul;7(3):635-51.


Coordinating responses through the Child Development-Community Policing Program has led to multiple changes in the delivery of clinical and police services. Mental health clinicians and police officers have developed a common language for assessing and responding to the needs of children and families who have been exposed to or involved in violence. Learning from each other, these unlikely partners have established close working relationships that improve and expand the range of interventions they are able to provide while preserving the areas of expertise and responsibilities of each professional group. The immediate access to witnesses, victims, and perpetrators of violent crimes through the consultation service provides a unique opportunity to expand the understanding of clinical phenomena from the acute traumatic moment to longer-term adaptation, symptom formation, and recovery. In turn, the initiative introduces the systematic study of basic psychological and neurobiologic functions involved in traumatization as well as the investigation of psychotherapeutic and pharmacologic therapies. Similarly, program involvement with juvenile offenders has led to a coordinated response from the police, mental health, and juvenile justice systems. This project provides an opportunity to develop detailed psychological profiles and typologies of children engaged in different levels of antisocial behavior as well as to determine the characteristics that might predict with whom community-based interventions might be most successful. A recent survey of New Haven public school students has yielded promising evidence that community policing and the program are having a positive impact on the quality of life. In a survey of sixth-, eighth-, and tenth-grade students there were substantial improvements in students' sense of safety and experience of violence between 1992 and 1996. When asked if they felt safe in their neighborhood, there was an increase in the percentage of positive responses from 57% to 62% for sixth-grade students, 48% to 66% for eighth-grade students, and 53% to 73% for tenth-grade students, and when asked if they had seen someone shot or stabbed there was a decrease in positive responses from 43% to 28% for sixth-grade students, 46% to 31% for eighth-grade students, and 34% to 28% for tenth-grade students. Today, we are all too familiar with the developmental trajectory that leads children into violent crime. Newspaper articles and clinical case reports have taken on a dreary repetitiveness. These young criminals are often poor, minority, inner-city children who are known to many agencies to be at risk because of family disorganization, neglect, and abuse. They are failing in school or are already on the streets. One day they are victims and the very next they are assailants. We are all familiar with the inadequacies in the social response to these children, from their preschool years through the point at which they become assailants themselves. What is shocking is that the age at which children make the transition from being abused to being abusive seems to be getting earlier, and the number appears to be increasing. On the positive side, there is an increased awareness of the need and the ability of the various sectors of society to respond in concert. The institutions that function in the inner city--schools, police, mental health and child welfare agencies, churches--are all concerned about the same children and families. By working together, with a shared orientation to the best interests of the children, they can intervene earlier and more effectively: first, to disrupt the trajectory leading to violence; and, second, to help those children who are already caught in the web of exposure to violent crime and inner-city trauma. The experience with community-based policing and mental health in New Haven, now being replicated throughout the United States, can thus stand as a model of an active social response to an overwhel

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Child
  • Child Development
  • Child, Preschool
  • Community Mental Health Services*
  • Connecticut
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Interprofessional Relations*
  • Male
  • Models, Organizational
  • Police*
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / physiopathology
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / prevention & control
  • Violence / psychology*
  • Violence / statistics & numerical data