Photo by Kelly White
Colleen A Kraft, MD, MBA, FAAP, was the keynote speaker on Aug. 29 during a symposium titled “Violence in Communities: Providing Trauma-Informed Care to Pediatric Patients” at Advocate Christ Medical Center's Stein Auditorium.
By Kelly White
The communities that children grow up in can have a deep effect on the adults they become later on in life. Unfortunately, the exposure to gun violence is inevitable, whether first-hand or through the media, and it has the ability to impact the way children think, feel and act.
“When a child is exposed to this kind of experience, it affects them mentally, emotionally, and physically,” said U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) on Aug. 29 at Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn during a symposium titled, “Violence in Communities: Providing Trauma-Informed Care to Pediatric Patients.” The symposium was held in the hospital’s Stein Auditorium.
“You can’t escape it, and you certainly can’t escape it in the city of Chicago,” Durbin said.
Durbin served as a special guest speaker along with state Sen. Kwame Raoul (D-13th) at the event that gathered more than 200 attendees made up of current and future physicians.
“I live three blocks away from the former president of the United States and I’ve still had to come home to talk to my own children about gun violence,” said Raoul, a candidate for Illinois Attorney General.
“Exposure to violence during childhood can negatively impact a child's life course trajectory, resulting in chronic physical and mental health morbidity,” said Colleen A Kraft, MD, MBA, FAAP. “We need a public health approach to decrease exposure to violence for all children.”
Kraft, who is also the president of the American Academy of Pediatrics, was the keynote speaker at the event, and was described by her peers as an expert in the field. Kraft said pediatricians witness first-hand the psychological effects community violence can have on children.
More than one-third of girls and boys across the country ages 10 to 16 have witnessed indirect community violence, according to ptsd.va.gov.
However, the statistic is not limited to that age group, as children as toddlers can even show signs of post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, according to hospital staff.
PTSD symptoms in children include nightmares, insomnia, anxiety, increased alertness to the environment, and having problems concentrating that can lead to physical symptoms. In females, signs of depression are seen more often after being exposed to community violence. In males, it is often aggression, according to hospital officials.
“Forty-two percent of mass shooters exhibited warning signs or concerning behaviors,” Kraft said. “A public health approach to gun control can save children’s lives.”
“We don’t want to see acts of community violence repeated over and over again because of a traumatic event a child witnessed that resulted in a domino effect,” Raoul said. “No one comes out of the womb angry with hate. Something happened in that person’s life that made them grab that gun and decide to use it on their neighbor.”
Kraft said there is a need for stronger gun control laws and stressed that there are gun control topics that many Americans agree on, including enforced background checks and preventing people with a history of mental illness from purchasing a weapon.
Sadly, there is no way to guarantee that a child will not be exposed or affected by indirect community violence, Kraft said.
“Gun violence takes a massive toll on our children,” she said.
Kraft, along with physicians at Advocate Children’s Hospital, are now looking at positive ways to treat contact to this type of experience with a new health approach at the hospital. Moving forward, as young patients enter the hospital for treatment, the exposure to indirect community violence may need to be considered, as well.
“As we assess a child’s overall health status, this is just one of the many outside forces we need to be aware of in providing optimal care,” said Dr. Frank Belmonte, chief medical officer at Advocate Children’s Hospital.
Belmonte stressed pediatricians will now be focusing on treating the whole child by looking at numerous factors that may have impacted their overall health and well-being.