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Counseling Can Combat Youth Violence

And referrals should start with emergency room doctors, study says

THURSDAY, Nov. 6 (HealthDay News) -- For children and teens who suffer violence at the hands of peers, immediate one-on-one mentoring on how to safely avoid conflict and diffuse threats reduces their risk of becoming victims again, a new study says.

The study included 10- to 15-year-olds treated for assault injuries -- including gunshot, knife and fist-fight wounds -- at emergency rooms at Johns Hopkins Children's Center in Baltimore and Children's National Medical Center in Washington, D.C., between 2001 and 2004.

Half of the 113 victims were treated and then referred by an ER doctor for at least six sessions of one-on-one counseling and three parent-home visits. The other half of the victims were referred to community resources and received two follow-up phone calls.

The counseling sessions included advice on how to identify and avoid triggers of anger, and role playing about conflict resolution and getting out of dangerous situations in appropriate ways.

The participants who received personalized counseling and formed a mentoring relationship with their counselors reported 25 percent fewer fights and 42 percent fewer fight injuries six months later, compared to those who received referrals only, the researchers said.

In addition, participants who received mentoring reported less aggression and fewer misdemeanors and were more likely to "think about the consequences," take steps to avoid fighting, and "take a time out" when faced with a conflict.

The findings, published in the November issue of the journal Pediatrics, suggest that the emergency room is a critical point for initiating this type of intervention, which gives at-risk children and teens behavioral options that can prevent violence, the researchers said.

"There can be a cycle of violence fueled by fear and retaliatory feelings," study lead investigator Dr. Tina Cheng, head of general pediatrics and adolescent medicine at Hopkins Children's, said in a Hopkins news release. "When we see youth with assault injuries in the ER, we have a golden window of opportunity to step in and interrupt this cycle, and our findings suggest that pairing teens with mentors who teach them problem-solving skills can help decrease the risk of future violence," she added.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more about youth violence.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: Johns Hopkins Children's Center, news release, Nov. 5, 2008

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