INDIANAPOLIS — She had just put her kids down for the night — the oldest of the four not more than 10 years old — in their eastside apartment when the mother heard gunfire out in the parking lot of her building.
“I hear my children getting up, and I’m telling them to, ‘Stay down! Stay down!’ and I hear glass shattering, but you can still hear all the gunshots going off,” she said. “One of the stray bullets came in through the window and lodged in their closet, and there was glass on one of my daughter’s beds, it was on her, it was on the floor.”
We’re protecting the identity of the woman and her children because the youngsters were traumatized by the shooting.
“The first thing I did with them is I let them know that it was okay to be scared,” she said. “Often times children are made to feel like their feelings are not valid, so in the middle of all of that they were afraid, and I let them know that it’s gonna be okay, and we’re gonna work through it.”
Researchers and counselors who deal with children who have been traumatized by violence tell us that the impact of being first-hand witnesses to crime can be devastating for young people in particular and the community at large.
“The ripple effects, the damage that this causes to the fabric of these communities and particularly to the sense of safety that children have is long lasting and has really serious cumulative impacts as well,” said Dr. Thomas Stucky, criminal justice professor at the O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs at IUPUI. “It’s not just limited to victims and their families, and, of course, it is really bad for those individuals absolutely, but it is widespread within the community.”
In the Martindale-Brightwood community, LaShauna Triplett of the Mackida Loveal & Trip Outreach Center counsels dozens of young people every year who have been witnesses to violence or lost a family member or close friend.
“Our youth are traumatized,” she said. “Helping them identify what trauma is and by investing more funding into the organizations, we can train our staff to be better advocates for our youth, and I just think that if we can save one child at a time, then we’re doing something.”
In his proposed 2022 city budget, Mayor Joe Hogsett has allocated millions of dollars to be spent on additional juvenile services and mental health wellness.
“In terms of the overall accumulation of these experiences, keep in mind that it’s not just a single experience. In some instances, it’s more than one,” said Stucky. “I have talked to members of the community who have had more than one family member shot or killed.”
Stucky said because of the fragile state of the developing young mind, violent trauma can have a devastating and long lasting impact on children.
“The human brain doesn’t fully develop until about age 25,” he said. “Even though they look like adults, 18-year-olds, their brains are still developing. The judgment centers of the brain are not fully developed until age 25.”
The former eastside mom who shepherded her children through the trauma of bullets violating their home said the young mind is often resilient if given enough support to recover at its own pace.
“You have to be able to acknowledge what you’re feeling and understand that maybe sometime there may be another situation if you’re at school that may trigger that, and it’s like, okay, wait, I felt like this before, this is how I can handle it,” she said, recounting the advice she’s given her children. “As parents, we always want to be able to fix our children, and sometimes we just can’t do that, just keeping the conversation open and honest.”