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Safer Futures: CHKD creates trauma program for young violence victims

Children's Hospital of The King's Daughters launched "Safer Futures" to bring children and their families trauma-informed care when they leave the hospital.

NORFOLK, Va. — Leaders with the Children's Hospital of The King's Daughters said it wasn't always common to treat violent-related injuries.

"You know, we're used to children coming in with a cold, even a broken arm or a fall," said Cathy Peterson, CHKD's trauma program manager.

Over the years, doctors began treating more severe injuries. Peterson said adult hospitals were more likely to see gunshot victims.

"Children being at the wrong place at the wrong time of a violent crime... maybe not intentional for that child or the children on a playground, even in a home," she said.

In 2019, CHKD leaders said the hospital system saw 21 children with gunshot wounds and 22 from assaults. In 2020, those numbers jumped to 37 gunshot victims and 71 assault victims. In 2021, CHKD saw 34 gunshot victims and 50 assaults victims.

"We surgically take care of these children," Peterson said. We take care of the physical wound but when they leave the hospital, we need to have an extension with these children in the community."

"The real work for our program starts once the patient has been discharged," said Kamron Blue, the program coordinator for Safer Futures at CHKD

The Safer Futures program aims to assist young victims of violence as they transition back to society.

"We're able to help them navigate the different systems that may be involved as a result of what happened and also helping them to process the trauma," Blue said.

In June 2021, CHKD’s trauma program received a Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association grant to develop the program. The goal is to break the cycle of violence, reduce the reinjury rate, and strengthen neighborhoods.

Blue said it's important for parents to be a part of the process in order to see children heal from this trauma.

"You need the buy-in really from the parents as well, and so you have to be able to partner with the parents as well as the child, building a strong foundation and rapport," Blue said.

The program has so far begun working with three families in March. Program leaders have already identified needs for young children. They include bullying in schools and mental health.

The Safer Futures program will focus on children injured by violence, but not those who were injured by accidental or self-inflicted gunshot wounds, or child abuse.