‘SAVED' Program Aims to Help Kids Process Trauma, Curb Teen Crime

Local police departments and organizations are coming together to identify kids who have witnessed violence and connect them to resources.

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Connecticut communities are stepping up to be there for kids impacted by violence. Whether those children saw a crime or were a victim, a new program aims to provide them with support, treatment and counseling.

The “SAVED” program comes out of New Britain, but several communities are involved. The goal is to ultimately curb youth crime.

Police say sadly, it is not uncommon for a child to witness or be a victim of violence and crime.

“On a daily basis. Some of our homicides. When you have domestic violence,” Chief Christopher Chute of the New Britain Police Department said.

They said the situation is impactful when someone so young is involved.

“It strikes at the heart,” Chief Stephen Clark of the Newington Police Department said. “So seeing a child, you know, under stress as a result of a traumatic event. Yeah, it gets to you.”

Now several police departments and community organizations are teaming up to identify kids who have been in those situations and get them help.

“Trauma has a devastating impact on kids,” Brian Preleski, New Britain state’s attorney, said. “But they can cope. Kids are also incredibly resilient. And they can cope with that, if we give them the tools to cope with that.”

The pilot program “SAVED,” short for State’s Attorney’s Violence Eradication and Disruption, is being funded by the Division of Criminal Justice. The New Britain, Bristol and Newington police departments are all participating.

Since the program launched Jan. 1, local pastor and retired police officer Dr. John Walker said he has already worked with about 10 kids. He said trauma has a big impact.

“Lifelong sometimes,” Walker said.

Walker is the “SAVED” violence prevention interventionist, working to connect personally with the kids.

“We want them to be able to go to school, unencumbered, so to be free to be able to learn without the hindrances of whatever they may have witnessed or been affected by,” he said.

His role is also to connect them to services. One new resource in the area is Wheeler Health, which recently made Bristol its headquarters.

“Access to mental health is very important,” Bristol Mayor Jeffrey Caggiano said. “They're in all of our schools already, and they had 146% increase in mental health referrals from the schools.”

Behind these efforts, there is also a long-term goal: curbing teen crime. All three police chiefs agree it's on the rise.

“These youths, especially with the pandemic, a lot of them were isolated, not a lot of services being offered,” Chief Brian Gould of the Bristol Police Department said. “We saw some more fighting happening, some weapons being brought into school, definitely, we're seeing the motor vehicle, thefts, larcenies from motor vehicles.”

“SAVED” aims to stop these crimes years before they happen.

“We talk about drilling down to the root cause of the problem, it starts with trauma at home, it starts with children that are watching traumatic experiences,” New Britain Mayor Erin Stewart said.

Local leaders believe helping young children is critical to breaking multi-generational cycles of violence.

“I believe fully that if you can reach a child, 5, 6, 7 years-old, 8 years-old, and they have the foundation, the building blocks to know that their life is important, you won't see them at 16, 18 ,20 years old in the judicial system,” Walker said. “You will see them become the leaders of tomorrow.”

The pilot program will run until June 30. The Division of Criminal Justice is gathering data now to help secure more funding for “SAVED” beyond June.

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