One Year After Sandy Hook

Last year the nation — and indeed the world — was shocked by the horrific shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., that claimed the lives of 26 people, 20 of whom were children. Although never far from our thoughts, the anniversary offers a chance to take a moment to remember the victims of the Sandy Hook shooting and their families, and to discuss the ways The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia is working to prevent such violent acts from happening again.

The shooting led to many strident calls to curb gun violence. After all, the tragedy at Sandy Hook was hardly the first of its kind. As The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia’s Joel A. Fein, MD, MPH, noted in a recent blog post, “in 2012 alone, seven mass shootings took place in the U.S., taking 151 lives. In 2013, there have been at least five mass shootings, injuring and killing more than 40. Each year, about 2,700 children (ages 0-19) years die by gunshot and an additional 15,000 are injured.”

Despite this and other calls for action, attempts to tighten gun laws have run into opposition. But such legislation inaction hasn’t stopped Children’s Hospital from working on its own to prevent violence against children.

The Hospital’s violence prevention efforts are led by the Center for Injury Research and Prevention (CIRP). Center investigators work tirelessly to “understand how violence affects the lives of kids, as well as how the physical environment influences aggressive and criminal behavior.” CIRP offers violence prevention tools, and its researchers are involved in a number of violence prevention organizations, including the Philadelphia Collaborative Violence Prevention Center and the National Network of Hospital-based Violence Intervention Programs.

In addition, in the first quarter of 2014 Children’s Hospital’s Violence Prevention Initiative (VPI) will be formally introduced. Led by psychologist Stephen S. Leff, PhD, and Dr. Fein, the VPI “is a comprehensive public health approach to this complex issue that addresses multiple aspects of violence: bullying, domestic violence, and physical assault,” Dr. Fein wrote on the CIRP blog. “Our focus as a pediatric healthcare facility is on promoting a safe environment for our patients and families,” Dr. Fein noted.

The initiative includes a number of components that draw on CHOP’s leading experts and network of care, including intensive case management, crisis management, school programs, and volunteer opportunities for Children’s Hospital faculty and staff. No other institution is “better prepared to lead this very important work, which has the potential to make a difference for children in communities across the United States,” said Children’s Hospital CEO, Steven M. Altschuler, MD.

“This work is a reminder of how much leaders can do when they collaborate to reach a common goal — and of the many opportunities we each have to make a difference in our community,” added Dr. Altschuler.

Calling the right to own firearms “a freedom that cannot be taken lightly,” Dr. Fein notes in his CIRP post that we “need to develop and implement policies that focus on how to live in a nation with 300 million firearms, so that our children can enjoy the simple freedom of safe homes, schools, and streets.”

To learn more about the Center for Injury Research and Prevention’s violence prevention efforts, see the Center’s website. For information about firearm-related violence in the United States, see a recent report by the Institute of Medicine and the National Research Council.

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