This is an excerpt from reporter Scott Johnson's blog, which focuses on the impact of violence and trauma on the community. Go to www.oaklandeffect.com for updates on his reporting.
Last week, the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee approved the 2012 budget, the first step in a lengthy series of budget negotiations taking place in Washington, D.C. In the process, it cut $19.7 million from the Centers for Disease Control's Youth Violence Prevention measures, the only federally-funded program that tackles youth violence through public health initiatives.
If the cuts are kept, authority and funding for violence prevention efforts in cities and communities across the country would be transferred to the Department of Justice, much of whose funding, incidentally, is also being cut. This amounts to a public health disaster, says Rachel Davis, the managing director of Prevention Institute, an Oakland-based organization that runs violence prevention initiatives around the country and whose funding would be affected by the cuts.
"We run the risk of losing the prevention expertise at the table," says Davis. "So when the mayor turns to a police chief and tells him to address a problem, he needs to have the resources. What public health does is bring the knowledge of how you put those resources in place, how you coordinate across all these sectors."
Davis and others say that cuts beingconsidered are tantamount to forgetting about at-risk youth until it's too late. "What we really need is to not wait until kids are in the criminal justice system," says Davis.
The evidence that violence is directly linked to a whole host of health issues -- from asthma to mental health problems and learning disabilities -- is growing. According to statistics from the Prevention Institute's UNITY Project, a nationwide violence prevention initiative whose $640,000 budget is at risk in the new Senate bill, kids who have experienced violence are far more likely to develop severe short and long-term health complications than kids who have not. Among their findings:
- Asthmatic adults who had witnessed violence were twice as likely to visit the hospital for asthma than those with no violence exposure.
- Exposure to violence as a child led to higher levels of chronic illness across the board: 2.2 times higher for cancer; 1.9 for stroke; 2.4 for lung disease and 3.9 for diabetes.
- Children of parents who perceived their neighborhoods to be unsafe were four times as likely to be overweight as children whose parents felt safe.
- 77 percent of children exposed to school shootings went on to develop PTSD, compared to 20 percent of soldiers deployed to combat zones.
- Teens who witness a stabbing are three times as likely to attempt suicide.
These are just some of the consequences. There are many more. What this points to is a growing sense that violence, health and well-being are much more intertwined than many think. What can appear from the outside to be unrelated events often have a common thread. A stabbing, high obesity rates, mental illness and asthma can all be tied together by the lack of safety in a single neighborhood.
Increasingly, health officials at Highland Hospital, one of the nation's premier trauma centers, believe that prevention is the single most important factor in reducing Alameda County's high levels of penetrating wounds -- primarily gunshot wounds and stabbings. If the Senate goes through with the nearly $20 million in cuts, it will mean that much more work for the trauma surgeons at the hospital, that much more of a financial burden for the taxpayer and that much more of a burden on the next generation caught in the violence today.