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Experts in child advocacy, health care discuss lasting trauma from youth violence

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Posted at 5:32 PM, May 04, 2023

KANSAS CITY, Mo — Experts in child advocacy and health care both say trauma can take moments to form, but take years to recover.

It is important to address the negative effects early on because they are seeing more and more episodes of violence being generational and cyclical — children witnessing crime and modeling those behaviors during conflict resolution.

Lisa Mizell, president and CEO of the Child Protection Center, says her staff works closely with police to identify children who suffer from complex trauma.

This means they have seen so much trauma they do not realize it is not normal.

Along with trauma-focused therapy for kids, the agency has created classes to teach families what healthy interactions and communication look like.

Leaders in the community have also allotted money and time into programs like Partners for Peace that focus on the effects of non-fatal violence.

"We work with a multi-disciplinary team that makes up law enforcement, Missouri's Children's Division, Children Mercy Hospital, the juvenile office," Mizell said. "All of those partners we meet with them once a month to review those cases we have to make sure we're meeting then needs of those families."

Mizell says there is no short answer to fixing youth violence. Victims, their families and community leaders have to play the long game with a focus on prevention and effective healing.

Dr. Robert Winfield, chief of Acute Care Surgery, Trauma and Surgical Critical Care at The University of Kansas Health System, says he has been a trauma surgeon for 11 years and has seen a steady increase in gunshot victims in the last few years as well.

“It is mostly young people that we’re seeing coming in shot and it’s a tragedy,” Windfield said.

When patients come into the emergency room, they start with the ABC’s — airway, breathing and circulation.

“As rapidly as possible, identify the injuries that are life-threatening first," Winfield said. "Address those and then move onto things that are otherwise a threat to limbs or less severe injuries from there on."

Depending on the location of the gunshot would, infections, complications and mobility issues can follow the initial trauma.

But one thing has always remained the same — violence does not discriminate.

“We see gunshot victims of all ages. We see everything from young children, to elderly individuals; people who were involved in illegal activities, to people who were not, people who sustained unintentional injuries, patients who self-inflicted those injuries,” Winfield said.

He says the negative consequences for one member of the community is an effect on us all.

Too often, his patients come right back into the hospital.

That is why health care leaders at KU Health System are investing in programs like REVIVE, a hospital-based violence intervention program that works to address the root causes.

“Our team does a wonderful job of reaching out to these folks after their injury getting not only them, but potentially family, siblings and so forth plugged into these programs," Winfield said. "So that again, we try and prevent these injuries from happening again if the person has already been involved or preventing it in the first place."

KU Health System is also one of only five centers in the country to receive a grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

It will continue to fund an existing program in Wyandotte County and expand it across the Kansas City area.

“For me, this is more than about patching up injuries and getting people back out to where they came from," Winfield said. "It’s really about trying to address the underlying causes."