Reducing violence in young children's lives

We are investing in programmes to reduce violence in young children's lives in seven of our focus countries (Brazil, Israel, the Netherlands, Peru, Tanzania, Turkey and Uganda). These programmes focus on preventing the direct victimisation of young children; on violence against those who care for them, especially their mothers; and on addressing community violence in places where it is so bad that young children are afraid to play outside. We are concerned with this issue because – whether young children are direct victims or witnesses of violence – it affects their health, ability to learn and even the development of their young brains.

Baseline research with more than 10,000 families in seven countries has confirmed that this is a big problem, but we have also uncovered evidence of interventions that can get results in relatively short periods of time. There is a fast-growing scientific basis for hope that we can make things better, and we have identified thoughtful and committed allies. 

Progress on Reducing Violence (2013)

Advances in neuroscience have demonstrated that repeated exposure to violence, as victims and witnesses, can stunt young children’s brain development and lead to lifelong problems with health, affecting their capacity to learn and contribute to society. In many places around the world community violence impedes the simplest joys of childhood, like the chance to play outside.

The Bernard van Leer Foundation, along with partner organisations, discovers and spreads solutions that prevent violence against children and their caregivers. We focus on conducting baseline research, supporting partners to pilot demonstration projects, and building partnerships with policymakers and advocates to help them use evidence for the prevention of violence more effectively.

Going forward, there is a continued challenge to expand the number of evidence-based solutions on which policymakers can draw and to spread these solutions widely.

Monitoring progess on Reducing Violence

Finding and publicising solutions to violence

We measure progress towards our goal on reducing violence in young children’s lives by tracking five indicators. Below you will find a summary of what we have achieved and learned for each indicator since the start of our strategic plan in 2010, along with remaining challenges.

None of this progress would have been possible without the professionalism, knowledge and commitment of our various project partners. While it is not possible to credit each individual contribution, some specific examples are highlighted in these pages.

Indicator 1: Reduce family violence

The Foundation supported partners to initiate 20 demonstration projects which are currently testing different approaches to prevent violence in the household. These projects have reached 56,167 children to date. Stories such as Christiane’s demonstrate the need for multi-sectoral intervention strategies to reduce violence in the family.

Indicator 2: Reduce community violence

Informed by baseline research commissioned to establish the levels and causes of violence in communities, and indicate ways in which it might be prevented or reduced, we have funded five demonstration projects involving 3,337 young children (including 2,127 also involved in demonstration projects on family violence). Programming to address community violence has seen the most progress in cities with mayors who have been receptive to evidence of successful ways in which to reduce violence.

Indicator 3: Spread evidence-based policies to prevent violence

We spearheaded the Violence and Children Evaluation Challenge Fund, along with the Oak Foundation and with the support of the ubs Optimus Foundation, to gather evidence about what works. To date the fund has supported 17 studies of the impact of violence prevention strategies across 16 low- and middle-income countries.

Knowing what works, however, is only a first step. As discussed next, research has shown that policymakers seem to have a cognitive block regarding solutions to violence in young children’s lives – they lack awareness of how easily preventable violence is, and tend to overestimate how much time and money it will take to achieve progress. The Foundation is working to rebrand violence from an inevitable fact of life to a solvable problem, by repeatedly communicating success stories.

Indicator 4: Increase provision of preventive and responsive services

Work at the local level has shown the most success – for example, on preventive services the municipalities of Amsterdam and The Hague, with the Nederlandse Organisatie voor Toegepast Natuurwetenschappelijk Onderzoek (TNO, the Netherlands Organisation for Applied Scientific Research), piloted a programme to prevent shaken baby syndrome which reaches 18,500 babies each year. In both the Netherlands and Peru we financed new tools that have begun to scale nationally as well as locally, such as the codification of new codes of conduct for professionals in hospitals when they suspect cases of child abuse. As described above, our demonstration projects on preventing and responding to violence are reaching a total of 57,377 children.

Indicator 5: Shift in norms towards less acceptance of violence

The efforts of Foundation grantees in Brazil and Peru to achieve a legal ban on all forms of corporal and humiliating punishment have challenged traditional beliefs about child rearing. In both cases the proposals have reached Congress, but cultural barriers suggest that a shift in strategy is necessary if these bills are ever to become law. Our partners have therefore focused on public messaging to shift social norms, reaching close to 3 million people, approximately 20% of whom were moved to take action.

Challenges in shifting social norms include the cognitive dissonance of parents who feel that they are being judged by messages on corporal punishment; beliefs among conservative segments of society that corporal punishment is necessary in child rearing; and objections to government intervention in family life. Peers and role models are proving to be the most effective messengers for challenging the status quo, as illustrated by the story from Uganda. Highlighting children’s voices also appears to be effective, as shown by the story about Klokhuis.

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