A new Prevention Institute report, featured Wednesday in USA Today, offers a groundbreaking framework for understanding the relationship between community trauma and violence. In doing so, the report provides insight into how we can overcome the inequities that contribute to a cycle of inner-city gun violence, poverty, unemployment, and poor health in communities of color.
As additional treatment models are developed for individual trauma, there is a growing need for addressing trauma as a public health epidemic, exploring population-level strategies and prevention. Until now, there has been no basis for understanding how community trauma undermines both individual and community resilience, especially in communities highly impacted by violence, and what can be done about it.
Adverse Community Experiences and Resilience, written by Prevention Institute (PI) with principal authors Dr. Howard Pinderhughes and Rachel Davis, and funded by Kaiser Permanente Community Benefit in Northern California, outlines specific strategies to address and prevent community trauma using techniques from those living in affected areas. Based on interviews with practitioners in communities with high rates of violence, the report describes symptoms of trauma at the community level. These symptoms include deteriorated environments and public spaces; limited employment; intergenerational poverty; disconnected social relations and networks; and more.
The USA Today article links federal efforts to increase spending on anti-violence and social services programs with the findings in PI’s report on trauma and community conditions. “A report out today by Prevention Institute calls for far more focus on [communities overburdened by trauma] that result when these social ills including violence, hunger and homelessness are ignored,” the article says.
Report co-author and PI managing director Rachel Davis notes, “The report enables us to address and even overcome systemic inequities caused by structural injustices that have created communities plagued by high rates of gun violence, poverty, unemployment, and poor health.”
“The effects of trauma extend beyond the individuals and are experienced across the community – causing a breakdown of social networks, social relationships and positive social norms – all of which could otherwise be protective against violence,” states report co-author Dr. Howard Pinderhughes, a professor at U.C. San Francisco.
Examples cited in the report of community strategies that build resilience, heal community trauma, and prevent future trauma include: healing circles that provide space for expression; restorative justice programs that shift the norms around conflict resolution; safer public spaces by addressing parks, housing quality and transportation; and rebuilding social relationships, particularly intergenerational ones.
Kaiser Permanente’s work with community organizations and its own trauma centers points to similar conclusions, and was the impetus for funding the Adverse Community Experiences and Resilience study.
“Kaiser Permanente has long recognized that violence is a public health issue and that it has a devastating effect not just on individuals but on entire communities,” says Yvette Radford, vice president, External and Community Affairs in Northern California. “As a health care organization, we've been addressing the impact of trauma and stress on our members and the community for many years. We’re proud to fund and collaborate on this study as part of our commitment to total health in the community, and we recognize how critical it is for diverse organizations to play a role in helping our communities heal.”
The adoption and dissemination of this framework by public health advocates, community organizers and violence prevention practitioners represents an important step in developing strategies for the nation’s communities and neighborhoods most impacted by interpersonal and structural violence, and towards the improvement of community health and well-being.