New Britain State’s Attorney Brian Preleski was attending a seminar this summer when he sat in on a presentation about the impact of trauma on children. It featured programs set up by district attorneys in Colorado and Alabama to connect children who were exposed to trauma and violence with services.
“If you have a shooting outside at three in the afternoon and your 12-year-old sees that, in a place like New Britain there’s a pretty good chance that the 12-year-old knows who the victim is,” Preleski said.
By the time the child explains to their parents what happened, parents instinctively think the child is ok, Preleski said. “But that’s incredible trauma for a kid and it could have an adverse impact down the road in life,” he said.
Armed with the information on the out-of-state programs, Preleski worked with Chief State’s Attorney Richard Colangelo and Deputy Chief State’s Attorney John Russoto to craft a pilot program to provide children with a way of dealing with violence and trauma that wouldn’t impact their ability to be successful in life.
Preleski, with area police chiefs and New Britain Mayor Erin Stewart, announced Wednesday the launch of the State’s Attorney’s Violence Eradication and Disruption – or SAVED – program to address trauma for children who have witnessed violence.
The plan is simple: To identify children who have witnessed trauma and the adults who care for them through a violence prevention interventionist who works with police, Division of Criminal Justice inspectors and local stakeholders to connect them to services.
The Division has hired retired police officer and minister John Walker as the violence prevention interventionist who is now working to identify children who may need help and to make the adults in their lives aware that services are available.
“My goal is to go into the schools, go into their homes and find out who needs what,” Walker said.
The goal is to help children process trauma now so that it won’t impact them later and possibly lead to incarceration, Preleski said.
“That exposure to trauma early on in life in childhood greatly enhances the risk of problems in adulthood,” Preleski said. “Problems that we see drive their calls for service and problems that drive our docket.”
The pilot program is taking place in select communities within the judicial district in New Britain, Bristol, Newington and Wethersfield. SAVED is funded through June with the possibility of continuing if the program demonstrates that Walker is able to connect with children who need help.
Walker and an inspector will canvas after violent events, talk with police and gather information from community partners on who may need help.
The program may prevent some youth from entering the criminal justice system, said New Britain Police Chief Christopher Chute. “When we look at the juvenile offenders, we do know that they have been subjected to trauma themselves, whether they witness violent trauma where they’ve seen a lot of mental health issues within their family or in their neighborhood or amongst other friends,” Chute said.
“Same thing with drug addiction, alcoholism, and so forth,” Chute continued. “So this is such a forward-thinking initiative spearheaded by the state’s attorney, Brian Preleski, which we’re so happy to be a part of, because we’re going to start identifying some of those children and young adults who have witnessed that trauma trying to intervene a little bit earlier on, provide some coping skills for them so that we can prevent them from becoming offenders.”
What people won’t see is immediate results, Preleski said. “There’s not going to be a change tomorrow on what we see on the streets,” Preleski said. “Our hope is that five, 10, 15 years down the road we’re going to see a change.”