Kids can recover from trauma of gun violence. It’s up to us to make that possible.

Through positive relationships and sustained intervention, victims of trauma can grow, learn and heal. But it takes a tangible commitment and intensive support.

SHARE Kids can recover from trauma of gun violence. It’s up to us to make that possible.
The scene outside Comer Children’s Hospital on the South Side after a 4-year-old boy was critically wounded in a shooting in September 2021.

The scene outside Comer Children’s Hospital on the South Side after a 4-year-old boy was critically wounded in a shooting in September 2021.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

No human being ever “gets used to” the trauma of gun violence. Experiencing shootings, directly or indirectly, is especially harrowing for children.

Survivors of trauma can heal, but it takes intensive support over the long term.

Consider Highland Park, the suburb where I was raised. Like so many, I was horrified by the Fourth of July 2022 mass shooting. I know people who are still experiencing trauma from that day. Some of them witnessed the shooting. Others may not have seen or heard directly, but were stunned that a shooting occurred in their own neighborhood. All have been scarred by that day’s violence.

The swift and empathic response for Highland Park warmed my heart. Schools transformed into healing havens with mental health care for individuals and families. The FBI’s Victims Services Response Team created a trauma counseling hub that included resources for government aid and financial assistance. Gov. J.B. Pritzker proclaimed disaster status for Lake County so state resources could aid in the suburb’s recovery.

Opinion bug

Opinion

All children harmed by gun violence and its repercussions deserve this kind of meaningful investment in their healing.

As executive director of Friends of the Children-Chicago, an organization that provides long-term, professional mentoring for children living on the South and West sides, I am closely connected to children for whom gun violence is not an unusual event. It is a frequent occurrence. Every one of the 128 children in our program has been impacted by gun violence, including 12 who have suffered the death of an immediate family member to gun violence.

Every day, I see what happens to children when they don’t feel safe and when the cumulative effects of toxic stress accumulate in their bodies and brains. They lose their ability to trust, learn or thrive. As they brace themselves for the next gunshot, the next life taken, they are often unable to regulate their emotions and behavior.

Angry outbursts are common, as are anxiety and depression. Unaddressed trauma can lead to mental illness, substance abuse and chronic disease. Their ability to learn is diminished, as is their ability to form secure relationships. When left unaddressed, the end result may be violence as victim or perpetrator, continuing a vicious generational cycle.

No quick fix

Unrelenting, unpredictable violence unravels individuals, families and whole communities, regardless of socioeconomic status. The issues are compounded when the community has been neglected and under-resourced for generations, where poverty levels are through the roof and economic opportunity is scarce.

Thankfully, trauma is not destiny.

There are no magical solutions or quick fixes for children who have been exposed to significant trauma. But, through positive relationships and sustained intervention, victims of trauma can grow, learn and heal. But it takes a tangible commitment and intensive support over the long term.

At Friends of the Children-Chicago, we empower children who have experienced trauma with the relationships, skills and goals they need to thrive by pairing them with professional mentors who are trained in trauma-informed practice. We start early, when children are in kindergarten, and we commit to them for 12.5 years. No matter what.

We know that early, sustained, and individualized intervention works. Thirty years of data across the Friends of the Children network demonstrate measurable, improved outcomes for children who have faced seemingly overwhelming obstacles.

But the problem is broad, entrenched and we can’t solve it alone. The public recognition and the reaction of our representatives when tragedy struck Highland Park is to be applauded. Could you imagine the long-term benefit to our communities and our city if all children received the trauma-recovery care they deserve?

Taal Hasak-Lowy is executive director of Friends of the Children-Chicago, which on Sept. 6 held Hidden Wounds: Understanding the Impact of Gun Violence on Children, a panel discussion exploring and identifying solutions to the challenges facing Chicago’s children.

The Sun-Times welcomes letters to the editor and op-eds. See our guidelines.

The views and opinions expressed by contributors are their own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Chicago Sun-Times or any of its affiliates.

The Latest
A 32-year-old man suffered multiple gunshot wounds and was taken to the University of Chicago Medical Center where he was pronounced dead, Chicago police said.
Milazzo learned to be resilient after a major college injury, and that trait has served her well in professional soccer.
What most refuse to see is the beauty of the skin she chooses to live in. A skin at this point millions-on-millions thought she’d shed like most other Black athletes when their fame introduces itself to fortune.
Prairie State Conservation Coalition is stepping up to assume a major role in funding conservation projects for land acquisition, land stewardship and organization capacity building (organizational infrastructure).
Though her parenting tips conflict with what the experts say, she insists she’s right because she was a nurse (but she really wasn’t).