UCSF Project to Treat Young Witnesses of Domestic Violence

September 09, 1999
News Office: Abby Sinnott (415) 885-7277

As many as 10 million children a year witness acts of domestic violence -- experiences that can have lasting effects on a child's development and be as traumatic as physical or sexual abuse, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.

To address this major public health problem, the UCSF Medical Center at Mount Zion Violence Prevention Project received a three-year, $470,000 grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to establish a program and clinic to treat traumatized children who have witnessed domestic violence.

The project, called Living in a Non-Violent Community, will identify children who have witnessed family violence and provide a child-centered, developmentally sequenced range of services or treatments to prevent the development of chronic health conditions. The clinic is a collaboration of the UCSF Medical Center at Mount Zion Violence Prevention Project, San Francisco General Hospital Medical Center Department of Psychiatry, UCSF Division of Behavioral and Developmental Pediatrics and the San Francisco Neighborhood Legal Assistance Foundation.

"We hope the clinic will serve as a model for other California communities in addressing issues of child witnesses to violence," said Dr. Margaret M. McNamara, chief of pediatrics at UCSF Medical Center at Mount Zion and a founding member of the violence prevention project. "We want our community to recognize this problem and utilize the clinic so that we are better able to respond to the needs of traumatized children and prevent maladaptive effects of witnessing violence in the home."

McNamara added that while services for battered women such as crisis intervention, shelter, housing, counseling, medical and legal services are linked, similar support for their children is often inadequate.

The program will develop standard protocols for responding to situations where a child has witnessed violence and to refer the family to direct intervention services. The clinic also will work with the San Francisco Neighborhood Legal Assistance Foundation to assist families by providing them with legal services.

The clinic will provide training for those who most often come in contact with traumatized children -- including police, doctors, teachers, childcare providers and the staff of community organizations -- to heighten their sensitivity to and improve identification of child witnesses of violence. The clinic also will provide violence prevention training to middle and high school students.

Each year, the UCSF Medical Center at Mount Zion Violence Prevention Project trains about 50 police officers and 100 health care and community service providers, as well as treats 70 children between the ages of 6 and 12. About 25 parents enroll in the project's parenting classes that provide education about child development, discipline techniques and alternatives to corporal punishment.

Annually, San Francisco General Hospital Medical Center treats about 35 children between infancy and 5 years old, as well as 35 youth between the ages of 13 and 18. The San Francisco Neighborhood Legal Assistance Foundation provides training for 1,000 middle and high school students and staff on various aspects of domestic violence and strategies for coping with and preventing violence.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation grant is part of its Local Initiatives Funding Partners Program that identifies innovative, community-based projects that have the potential to develop into national models and are designed to improve health and health care for underserved and at-risk populations. In 1999, the funding program received more than 300 applications. Of those, only 18 projects were funded. The grant is a one-to-one matching grant. Sufficient funds have been secured for the first year, but the UCSF Medical Center at Mount Zion project must raise funds for the second and third years, McNamara said.

Funding partners include UCSF Stanford Health Care Community Benefit Program Fund; Lucile Packard Foundation for Children's Health; Mount Zion Health Fund-The Martin Diamond Fund for Community Initiatives; The San Francisco Foundation; UCSF School of Medicine; John and Terry Levin; Lisa and Douglas Goldman Fund; Stuart Skorman (Hungry Minds Foundation); Vicky DeGoff and Dick Sherman.

The UCSF Medical Center at Mount Zion project was founded in 1995 by pediatricians and pediatric social workers in the Mount Zion Pediatric group. The program has several components. PATHWAYS (People Allied to Help Western Addition Youth Succeed) is a family support program that provides crisis intervention and therapy for families whose children have been affected by violence. A parent education series emphasizes building self-esteem in children and positive discipline techniques with a focus on alternatives to physical punishment.

The UCSF Medical Center at Mount Zion project also works with the Western Addition Health and Wellness Collaborative, which concentrates on the health and well being of children in local schools, the Western Addition Crime Abatement Committee and other local and national networks committed to violence prevention.

For more information or to contribute to the clinic, please call the UCSF Medical Center at Mount Zion project at (415) 885-7636.