Abstract: Breaking the Cycle of Intergenerational Violence: The Promise of Psychosocial Interventions to Address Children's Exposure to Violence (Society for Social Work and Research 25th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Social Change)

All live presentations are in Eastern time zone.

Breaking the Cycle of Intergenerational Violence: The Promise of Psychosocial Interventions to Address Children's Exposure to Violence

Friday, January 22, 2021
* noted as presenting author
Laura Vargas, PhD, MSW, MPA, Vice-Provost Postdoctoral Fellow, Columbia University, New York, NY
Background/Purpose: Exposure to violence in childhood can have severe physical, emotional, and mental health consequences. Violence in childhood is associated with the likelihood of perpetrating or experiencing intimate partner violence in adulthood. Mechanisms contributing to this intergenerational transmission of violence include the long-term psychological and physiological consequences of exposure to violence as well as the ways in which children are socialized within unequal gender norms and power dynamics. Multiple studies reaffirm that exposure to violence in childhood has negative impacts on mental health and may contribute to men’s violence against women later in life. Despite the well-documented evidence, there is limited discussion of how working with children who have experienced violence can serve as a strategy to prevent future gender-based violence.

Methods: The authors reviewed psychosocial interventions focused on disrupting cycles of violence. Interventions were delivered in different settings (i.e., individual and group/community settings), in different contexts (e.g., humanitarian, schools, etc.), and different people delivering interventions (e.g., formally trained professionals, trained community facilitators, etc.).

Results: Approaches that work directly with individual children, from cognitive behavioral therapy to interpersonal therapy to mindfulness and yoga have varying levels of effectiveness for participants. School-based interventions provide opportunities to address childhood trauma with children who display symptoms and also serve as an opportunity to support mental health more broadly. Community-level interventions, such as creating child-friendly, safe spaces in the aftermath of humanitarian disasters or conflict can be effective when delivered as complements to more targeted interventions. Importantly, the review found successful examples of interventions led by trained lay facilitators, allowing for delivery at scale in low resources settings.

Conclusions: Programs and policies offering quality, targeted interventions to support children’s psychological and social needs can provide immediate support and have the potential to disrupt future cycles of violence. Such programs and interventions should be offered as part of a comprehensive suite of services aimed at preventing violence against women and children. Programs and comprehensive services to prevent violence may be particularly important for children in humanitarian contexts that face multiple forms of trauma and/or violence.