Violence Prevention Initiative: Dee Dee's Story

Meet Dee Dee, who recovered from a violent assault with help from a team at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.

Violence is a public health epidemic in our country. Every year, hundreds of thousands of injured youth ages 10 to 24 are cared for in emergency departments across the country due to violence. The health and psychosocial consequences can last long after the violence occurs.

The Violence Prevention Initiative (VPI) at CHOP is an evidence-based effort to protect youth from violence. The program strives to reduce the incidence and impact of aggression on children and families in our community through educational programming in schools and the community, screening for risk in clinical settings, and direct casework with injured youth and their family members. It has become a national and global model for hospital-based and community-delivered violence prevention.


Violence Prevention Initiative: Dee Dee's Story

Joel A. Fein, MD: I’ve been an Emergency Medicine doc for more than 20 years, and I’ve seen the devastation that violence can have.

Dee Dee: I was assaulted outside of my home and stabbed in my head and rushed to the hospital.

Laura Vega, MSW, LSW: She was in her neighborhood, actually in front of her house, and her sister was being attacked, and Dee Dee tried to step in to protect her sister.

Joel A. Fein, MD: In the past, when someone came in to our Emergency Department with say a penetrating injury, like a knife or a gunshot wound or even just a school fight, we would patch them up and send them home and feel like we did a pretty good job. And what that left was a big hole in the patient and family’s life. “Oh my God, what just happened to me and how am I going to move forward?”

Laura Vega, MSW, LSW: The VIP program is a group of doctors, social workers and psychologists who work with youth after a violent injury. We provide intensive case management, peer support groups, trauma-focused therapy, mentorship, advocacy. As a result of the violent assault, many of our youth suffer from chronic migraines; they have trouble sleeping; they feel unsafe, sometimes in their schools and their neighborhoods. They are hyper vigilant, so they’re constantly looking over their shoulders.

Dee Dee: I was angry, but like sad and like devastated at the same time. I always like take the back way to my block because my anxiety got so bad. I didn’t even want people like walking behind me.

Laura Vega, MSW, LSW: Especially considering that it was right in front of her house that this occurred, it was really hard for her to sleep at night and to actually like go outside.

Dee Dee: It felt I’m like closed in or boxed in and like by myself and like anybody in town could’ve take me. Even though that probably wasn’t true, but that’s how I felt during that time.

Laura Vega, MSW, LSW: One of the first things that we did was connect her for trauma-focused therapy to try to process some of what happened. We also got her into a different school that was more supportive to her.

The peer support group that we run is called BRAVE, which stands for Building Resilience After a Violent Event. In the group sessions, one of the most powerful pieces is that each youth understands that they’re not alone in this, that violence and bullying happens to so many youth, unfortunately. And so, as they begin to share with each other and their own experiences, other youth can learn.

Dee Dee: So, the best things that I learned was that talking about your violent event helps, and also like pairing with other people that been through the same thing helps you cope.

Laura Vega, MSW, LSW: I think she had found her space to heel and she was a real strong leader in those groups, and then became a peer mentor for our program helping other youth.

Joel A. Fein, MD: The number of kids in our Emergency Department that we’re seeing for violent injuries is going up every year. Last year, we saw maybe 500 kids that could have been eligible for our program. Because of limited capacity, we were only able to see about 75 of those kids.

Laura Vega, MSW, LSW: It’s heartbreaking to know how much violence is occurring and how many people we’re not able to reach. That’s something I struggle with, knowing that we can have such a big impact and we can help families heal. But really, not being able to meet the number of kids that we can possibly serve. We’ve seen it; we’ve seen so many kids heal and so many kids not just heal, but then turn around and help other kids.

It’s our job to let them know that there is light at the end of this; that there is hope and that healing is possible.

Dee Dee: I do feel like I am in a better place because I can actually see where I’m going. Everything’s not all jumbled.

Joel A. Fein, MD: To realize what somebody’s gone through and survived and then turns it around and makes it into a positive thing in their lives and actually starts helping other kids, that to me is just exactly what we should be doing.