Panel discusses children and violence

Sometimes children are faced with traumatic situations that render after effects. A panel discussed these effects that violence has on children in the Mercy Heritage Room on Tuesday, April 24.

The panel was composed of Charlotte Berringer, R.N., director of community health for the Erie County Department of Health; Carol Finotti, sexual assault counselor/victim advocate, Crime Victims Center of Erie County; Sue Kuligowski, director of medical outreach programs and projects at SAFENET; Marshall J. Piccinini, assistant U.S. attorney; and Thomas Vinca, president and CEO, Family Services of NW PA.

The panel was selected based on their roles in the community that related to policies, programming and practices with children and families that have experienced violent situations.

The discussion was led by Civic Institute Director Amy Eisert who asked the panel questions and kept the event running smoothly.

“It was very interesting, especially since I’m working for SAFENET. It was great to learn more about the programs there before my internship starts,” junior Samantha Cross said.

Eisert works in a division of the Social Sciences Department at Mercyhurst and supplies a connection with the community and the university. Her role entails providing opportunities for students to acquire knowledge about initiatives throughout the community to provide them helpful information.

Research shows that children exposed to violence are connected to cases involving drug and alcohol abuse, depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress and delinquent behavior. Violence not only affects the children physically, but also has emotional, cognitive, social and behavioral effects.

“I enjoyed how they had representatives from different types of social services in Erie. I really liked it,” junior Natalie Magoc said.

This issue has become so serious that Erie County has prioritized family conflict as a high priority risk factor among the youth.

Kuligowski from SAFENET described how the organization tries to make children feel safe again through age appropriate therapy. Not all children will want to talk about their experiences with violence so through acts of play and art, children receive therapy.

Some children are more likely to talk about their violent incidents while preoccupied with something else.

SAFENET comes into schools educating children about how to avoid and deal with violence, considering 80 percent of runaways come from homes where violence has occurred.

Abuse is a learned behavior and those that experience violence are more likely to continue the cycle as the abuser later in life.

Family Services of NW PA has found that unlike several decades ago, they have evidence that their programs are working. Three out of four children, after 12 to 20 sessions, leave the program changed for the better.

The panel discussed their various roles working with children who have dealt with violent situations. It also included a run-down of the Attorney General’s, Erie Holder, Defending Childhood Initiative.

“There are programs available within the community that work to curb violence and to work with the impact of violence on children. Some of those efforts are outlined in the report I have attached that my office released last year,” said Eisert.

The event was free and open to the public.