In an article published in January 2011 in the journal Aggression and Violent Behavior, Dr. Jianghong Liu of the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing proposes a framework for understanding the pre- and early post-natal origins of violence. Dr. Liu argues that the current literature neglects the role of early childhood in child and adolescent violent behavior and lacks long-term studies of how early childhood health impacts later behavior.
She proposes a variety of early health risk factors that may increase risk of childhood aggression, including smoking during pregnancy, birth complications, alcohol and drug consumption during pregnancy, teenage pregnancy, maternal depression, malnutrition, lead exposure, head injury, child abuse and maternal stress. These risk factors do the most damage during early childhood, when children’s neuro-development is at its peak. She argues that public health prevention programs targeting these risk factors are a heretofore-unused opportunity for violence prevention.
In a news article about her research, Dr. Liu says, “As a society we should invest in better health care for early life – as early as a growing fetus – in order to minimize their health risk factors for violence. It is never too early to intervene in the development of violent tendencies.” Her statement echoes the work of Dr. James Heckman, Nobel Laureate, who advocates for economic investment in early childhood education. A summary of his talk at the Schubert Center in March 2010 can be accessed here.
On September 27, Schubert Center Faculty Associate Dr. Daniel Flannery will be giving a talk on Merging Research, Practice, and Policy in Addressing Children’s Exposure to Violence. He is the director of the Semi J. and Ruth J. Begun Center for Violence Prevention at the Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences. His current research projects include Project Tapestry, which studies violence prevention services for youth, and evaluation of the Fugitive Safe Surrender Program.
Several other Faculty Associates study violence in children and youth. Dr. James Spilsbury of the Center for Clinical Investigation studies the role of sleep disturbances in children who have been exposed to violence. Dr. Mark Singer of the Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences studies youth violence and co-existing drug and mental disorders.