Community Violence and Trauma Recovery: Strategies for Supporting Families Impacted by Gun Violence

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Community Violence and Trauma Recovery: Strategies for Supporting Families Impacted by Gun Violence

UYTC Community Violence and Trauma Recovery: Girl Banner

In recent years, the rate of community violence exposure has increased substantially, and the number of families impacted by gun violence across the nation has grown significantly. Growing up in the midst of community violence can impact children's social, emotional, behavioral, and cognitive development. It can disrupt their baseline of safety, making it more difficult for entire families and communities to sustain a sense of stability. For those who live in or near places where violence is quite common, the daily risks can take a toll on physical and emotional health; and the lingering psychological impacts left on children, with ongoing exposure to violence and trauma, are immeasurable. Community violence holds victims, families, friends, and entire neighborhoods at-risk, causing paralyzing fear and trauma that is ongoing.


In recognition of National Youth Violence Prevention Week (NYVPW) 2022, the Urban Youth Trauma Center has developed a new resource guide that raises awareness about the impact of gun violence and provides strategies for how families, school-based professionals, and service providers can support children and adolescents as the deal with the long-term effects of living in communities that are exposed to violence.

Click here to download a copy of the UYTC Community Violence Resource Guide



Community Violence and Trauma Recovery - Parent Hug

Strategies for Supporting Children Exposed to Gun Violence and Establishing a Sense of Safety

When constantly faced with community violence and the possibility that a loved one will be injured or killed, children and teens look to adults for reassurance that they are safe and that everything will be ok. The presence of positive and stable relationships during times such as this is extremely important, and the care and support provided by caregivers, peers, or mentors can help with positive development and resiliency. Safety mapping involves: 1) talking to children about the people, places, or situations that make them feel unsafe, or puts them at risk for increased risk for danger; and (2) identifying alternatives that maximize safety. Establishing a safety plan and providing developmentally appropriate information about what to do during a potential threat can help address the worries and the concern that a child or teen may have.



Symptoms associated with community violence exposure can include:

  • Uncontrollable crying
  • Excessive clinging and fear of being alone
  • Regressive behavior
  • Sensitive to loud noises
  • Aches and pains
  • Appetite changes


  • Sleep changes
  • Sadness
  • Withdrawal and isolation
  • Irritability and acting out
  • Excessive fears and worry
  • Agitation and apathy
  • Risk-taking behaviors


  • Poor concentration
  • Avoidance
  • Feelings of disappointment or discontent
  • Feelings of hopelessness and helplessness



Importance of Trauma-Focused Treatment and Seeking Support

Adverse experiences during childhood and adolescence due to community violence and trauma exposure can result in issues with physical and mental health, lower school achievement, difficulty focusing and concentrating, behavioral problems, difficulties with emotion regulation, early symptoms of post-traumatic stress, and trouble with social relationships. In many instances, caregivers and school staff may be the first to notice changes in a child or teen's behavior or see the “warning signs” that they are experiencing difficulties with their physical and mental health due to community violence exposure. When noticing these signs, reaching out to a mental health professional that specializes in trauma-focused treatment is crucial. Click here for more information about the different interventions for children and families exposed to trauma.


UYTC Community Violence and Trauma Recovery: Family GriefTraumatic Grief following Community Violence

The death of a friend, family member, student, or loved one to gun violence can result in long-term feelings of grief and loss, and cause individuals to experience what is referred to as traumatic grief. When talking with children and teens, it is important to normalize the stages of grief that they may experience and may sure to explain what has happened using age-appropriate language that they can understand. It is also important to emphasize that every individual responds to a loss differently and there is no right or wrong way to grieve. Grief reactions to watch for include concern about separating from a caregiver, regressive behaviors such as bedwetting, asking a lot of questions about death, becoming withdrawn or isolated from others, difficulty completing schoolwork, and increases in defiant, aggressive, or risk-taking behavior. Click here to learn more about the effects of traumatic grief and strategies for helping children and adolescents following the loss of someone in their life.


Community Violence and Trauma Recovery - School Staff

School-Based Strategies for Supporting Students Exposed to Community Violence

As the number of stressors and challenges that students are exposed to continues to increase, creating a trauma-sensitive learning environment where students can feel safe and supported is critical. Implementing a practical and age-appropriate trauma response method by teachers, administrators, and school-based mental health professionals is one of the primary ways that we can begin to identify students that are at-risk and link them to resources so that they can get the help and support that they need. Click here to access the National Child Traumatic Stress Network’s (NCTSN) guide for providing psychological first aid within school settings.



Trauma-Informed Strategies for School-Based Professionals

  • Become more knowledgeable about the prevalence of trauma exposure for students in your school.
  • Engage families in school activities and provide psychoeducation about the effects of stress and trauma.
  • Promote a safe school climate and identify safe spaces for students.
  • Strengthen and increase afterschool programming.
  • Prepare a crisis response plan for how to respond when a student or family is involved in an incident of community violence.
  • Learn more about disparities linked to social and economic disadvantage.
  • Collaborate with organizations in the community and mental health agencies to provide additional support for students and their families.


Changing the Message of Violence

It is important to identify the current norms within a culture or community that may promote or perpetuate violent behaviors. Once identifying those norms, individuals can work with children and teens to identify rules and patterns of behavior that are more adaptive and acceptable. While working to address negative behaviors, adults should remember that many of these youth have experienced multiple traumas and even if they are trying to change, they may be dealing with considerable amounts of distress, feelings of uncertainty, and discomfort. In situations such as this, acting out, emotional outbursts, or violent behaviors may occur, and it is important that parents, school staff, and community members continue to provide support and understanding. When supporting youth at risk, it is important to provide alternatives that can change the outcome, including finding peaceful solutions, being inclusive, emphasizing strengths, embracing diversity, and promoting mutual respect.


Online Resources about Gun Violence

APA: Gun Violence Prevention
Impact of Gun Violence on Black Americans
The Impact of Gun Violence on Children and Teens
The Impact of Gun Violence on American Children and Teenagers


Additional Resources

Community Violence: The Effects on Children and Teens
Community Violence Prevention
Community Violence Fact Sheet: Reactions and Actions in Dangerous Times
The Relationship between Community Violence and Trauma
Talking to Children about Violence: Tips for Parents and Teachers
Financial Assistance for Illinois Families: Crime Victim Compensation


PLEASE NOTE: The inclusion of the resources above does not imply the UYTC’s endorsement of the information or views included on other sites. These resources are included to provide additional information regarding the widespread prevalence and impact of community violence.