Last week, Memphis hosted the 57th annual Tennessee Association for the Education of Young Children conference. Early childhood educators, researchers and clinicians from across the state came together to learn about early brain development, best practices in early childhood education, and child development from experts in a broad range of fields. Across the range of disciplines represented, a common theme emerged: what happens to a child during their first years of life has a strong influence on their later life outcomes. Early experiences – with parents and siblings, and in learning about the world around them – have a profound influence on a child. When children are exposed to adverse early experiences, such as exposure to violence or abuse at home – they are more likely to experience adverse outcomes across a range of dimensions later in life. By recognizing the importance of early experiences, parents are better able to understand the importance of the first years in shaping their child’s optimal development.
Unfortunately the research suggests that violence is a part of everyday life for too many children and families in Memphis. In 2009, there were close to 8,000 reported cases of domestic violence in Memphis. Among aggressive crimes in the City of Memphis, domestic violence accounts for 16% of all murders, 39% of all aggravated assaults, and 60% of all simple assaults.1 In Shelby County, 67% of men who are arrested for domestic violence have children under 18 years of age, with 35% of those children being under 5 years old.2
This month’s Research to Policy focuses on the theme of violence: its impact on children, parenting practices that respond to violence and aggression in children, and interventions designed to help prevent violence and maltreatment of children in our community. The best place to begin to prevent violent and aggressive behavior is at home and at an early age. By tackling violence early, we are preventing the spread of violence in our community and society at large. Fortunately, for those facing these challenging situations, help is available. Programs such as the Regional Intervention Program for parents dealing with children with mild to severe behavioral problems and home visitation programs offer parents free help in preventing the spread of child violence and maltreatment. Together, we can help decrease the spread of violence in our community through fostering the positive development of our youngest residents, creating a better and safer society for all children and families in Memphis.