Government Relations Update

Capitol Hill briefing highlights violence prevention research

Evidence-based programs are major theme of APA-cosponsored event.

By Christine Jamieson

The American Psychological Association (APA) cosponsored a congressional briefing on June 25 to highlight the work of the National Center on Injury Prevention and Control (“Injury Center”) of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The four speakers, who come from the fields of psychology, medicine and public health, provided a multifaceted review of the current state of violence prevention across the lifespan. 

Psychologist Deborah Gorman-Smith (PDF, 1.58MB), of the University of Chicago and a member of the Injury Center’s Board of Scientific Counselors, emphasized the significant progress that has been made in the field of violence prevention research over the past 20 years, including a growing understanding of what risk factors are malleable and what types of prevention programs are effective. She emphasized the need to continue to build the evidence base of effective programs, as many programs have no impact or can even do harm. Gorman-Smith described how the Chicago Center for Youth Violence Prevention, which she directs, focuses on the role of families in violence prevention, which often has been left out of previous approaches. The Chicago Center is investigating such strategies as the promotion of health development and family capability in high risk communities and the use of surveillance data for predictive epidemiology. Gorman-Smith reported on a successful program called SAFE Children, which works with families of first grade students and has been shown to lead to positive outcomes when those students reach high school.

Offering a medical perspective, Clarence Lam (PDF, 1MB), assistant director of the Prevention Medicine Residency Program at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, presented data on the frequency of hospitalizations due to different kinds of violence, including self-inflicted violence, assault and maltreatment. Lam painted a picture of what violence-related injuries look like in the hospital setting, including the observations that the role of violence is often only discovered after questioning and that mental and emotional trauma following violent injuries is apparent but difficult to quantify. He also discussed the longer-term medical effects of violence, including the effects of excessive, repeated stress on early brain development. Lam underscored the importance of funding for prevention research and programs, noting the high economic impact of violence: total lifetime cost for child maltreatment cases occurring each year is around $124 billion. Further, he pointed to the important information provided by the CDC’s National Violent Death Reporting System, noting that it currently only collects surveillance from 18 states.

Thomas Simon (PDF, 1.16MB), deputy associate director for science in the Injury Center’s Division of Violence Prevention, presented an overview of what is known about violent injuries in the United States, citing the results of CDC-funded surveys, including the National Survey of Children’s Exposure to Violence and the new Intimate Partner Violence Survey. Simon highlighted evidence-based CDC programs such as Safe Dates, a teen dating violence prevention program; Dating Matters, a program designed for adolescents in urban settings; STRYVE, a program to reduce youth violence; and Triple P, a child maltreatment prevention program. Simon outlined the CDC’s public health approach to prevention, which follows four steps: surveillance to describe the problem, identification of risk/protective factors, development and evaluation of prevention strategies, and implementation and dissemination.

Oxiris Barbot, commissioner of health for the Baltimore City Health Department, spoke about the implementation of evidence-based practices aimed at modifying attitudes and behavior around violence in Baltimore. Barbot stressed that violence is a learned behavior and that it can be un-learned. She echoed the other speakers on the importance of recognizing violence as a public health issue, and emphasized that “one size does not fit all” across geography and neighborhoods when it comes to prevention.  

In the discussion following the presentations, Simon responded to a question from a congressional staff member about what makes programs replicable. He said that it is important to make sure that the risk and protective factors of the community one is working with match those of the community where the research was conducted.

This congressional briefing was hosted by the Injury and Violence Prevention Network, a coalition of organizations to support funding for the CDC’s Injury Center, of which APA is a member. Government relations staff from APA’s Science and Public Interest Directorates took part in coordinating the briefing, which drew an audience of congressional staff, Department of Health and Human Services staff and violence prevention advocates.

Christine Jamieson is Science Policy Associate in the APA Science Directorate’s Government Relations Office.