Charleston, Huntington Programs Target Crime-Traumatized Children

By: Randy Yohe Email
By: Randy Yohe Email

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- Every young child deserves to grow up in a happy, healthy environment.

But the violent realities of neighborhood crime create too many challenges -- and too much trauma.

That’s why some folks are banding together to tackle that trauma, and make a real difference in a child’s life. There’s new program beginning in Huntington and Charleston to help the youngest victims. found that children become trauma victims because they see, hear, and get caught in the middle of the neighborhood raids; the arrests, the domestic conflicts.

But the goal of a federally funded initiative called "Defending Childhood" is now setting up shops around the country. All to create a trauma sensitive environment, and replace pain with promise.

In Huntington’s Fairfield West neighborhood, Weed and Seed program coordinator Stephanie Conley and community leader Leon White see too many young children go to school troubled. They see kids often misdiagnosed, and they say their set-in problems actually stem from the violence all around them.

“One time, I had a couple of kids who were in disagreement, and I said com'on guys, we used to just shake hands and walk away," said White. "They were unable to do that, and it's because of what they have seen."

Huntington’s pilot Defending Childhood program is spring boarding off Kanawha County’s Jahlil Clements Defending Childhood program -- named for the 11-year-old killed on the interstate while trying to get help for his mom, a domestic violence victim.

“They have developed protocol that going to address different things that can be done to create a trauma sensitive environment, beginning with the school systems,” Conley explained.

School Principal Pam Bailey is excited.

“It’s going to be an excellent program to help us identify those students before you jump to conclusions that they are a bad child when indeed that good child has had something traumatic happen to them,” said Bailey.

Defending childhood targets kindergarten thru 6th grade, and will work closely with schools like Huntington’s Spring Hill elementary. Principle Bailey says student trauma from community violence creates counseling challenges.

“Sometimes they come to school upset, or angry or not wanting to do their work that day, and we don't know exactly why," said Bailey. "And instead of focusing on the behavior, we need to focus on what caused that behavior.”

The initiative will identify the children in need of help and offer after school trauma sensitive counseling, and positive programs to help turn troubled young lives around.

Defending Childhood also has the support and partnership of U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin's office and Huntington Police Chief Skip Holbrook and his department.

Funding comes from federal justice department grants, and is told the program won't begin until all parties are well versed and ready to really make a difference in a traumatized child's life.

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