Connecticut communities are mobilizing to be there for children affected by violence. Whether these children have witnessed or been victims of crime, a new program aims to provide them with support, treatment and advice.
The “SAVED” program comes from New Britain, but several communities are involved. The objective is to curb juvenile delinquency.
Unfortunately, the police say that it is not uncommon for a child to witness or be the victim of violence and crime.
“On a daily basis. Some of our homicides. When you have domestic violence,” said Chief Christopher Chute of the New Britain Police Department.
They said the situation has an impact when someone so young is involved.
“It strikes at the heart,” said Chief Stephen Clark of the Newington Police Department. “So seeing a kid, you know, stressed out from a traumatic event. Yeah, that gets to you.
Now, several police departments and community organizations are teaming up to identify children who have found themselves in these situations and provide them with assistance.
“Trauma has a devastating impact on children,” said New Britain State Attorney Brian Preleski. “But they can cope. Children are also incredibly resilient. And they can deal with it, if we give them the tools to deal with it.
The “SAVED” pilot program, short for State’s Attorney’s Violence Eradication and Disruption, is funded by the Criminal Justice Division. New Britain, Bristol and Newington Police Services are all taking part.
Since the program launched on January 1, local pastor and retired police officer Dr John Walker said he has already worked with around 10 children. He said trauma has a big impact.
“Throughout life sometimes,” Walker said.
Walker is the “SAVED” violence prevention interventionist, working to connect personally with children.
“We want them to be able to go to school, unhindered, so that they are free to be able to learn without the hindrances of anything they may have witnessed or been affected by,” he said.
Its role is also to connect them to services. A new resource in the area is Wheeler Health, which recently made Bristol its headquarters.
“Access to mental health is very important,” Bristol Mayor Jeffrey Caggiano said. “They’re already in all of our schools, and they’ve had a 146% increase in mental health referrals from schools.”
Behind these efforts, there is also a long-term goal: to fight against teenage crime. All three police chiefs agree it is on the rise.
“These young people, especially with the pandemic, a lot of them were isolated, not many services were offered,” Bristol Police Department Chief Brian Gould said. “We’ve seen other fighting happening, weapons being brought to school, certainly, we’re seeing motor vehicles, thefts, theft from motor vehicles.”
“SAVED” aims to stop these crimes years before they happen.
“We’re talking about digging down to the root cause of the problem, it starts with trauma in the home, it starts with children watching traumatic experiences,” said New Britain Mayor Erin Stewart.
Local leaders believe helping young children is key to breaking multigenerational cycles of violence.
“I fully believe that if you can reach a child, 5, 6, 7, 8, and he has the basics, the basics to know his life matters, you won’t see him at 16, 18, 20 years in the justice system,” Walker said. “You’ll see them become the leaders of tomorrow.”
The pilot program will continue until June 30. The Criminal Justice Division is now collecting data to help secure more funding for “SAVED” beyond June.