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How Violence Affects the Lives of Black Children

Learn how exposure to violence impacts black youth—and how Walden’s clinical mental health counseling master’s program can prepare you to help make a difference.

Black children—particularly those who live in impoverished, urban communities—are exposed to violence at disproportionate rates. Studies show that black children are three times more likely than white children to be victims of reported child abuse or neglect, three times more likely to be victims of robbery, and five times more likely to be victims of homicide.1


These alarming statistics raise a big concern for counselors and clinical mental health professionals. What is the impact of violence on black children? And how can we provide the support they need?

Dr. Benton Johnson, faculty member in the MS in Clinical Mental Health Counseling online degree program at Walden University, is an expert on the impact of violence on young children. In an interview with Chicago’s WGN Radio, he shared his perspective on how chronic exposure to violence can affect the lives of black youth. Excerpts are below.2

What types of violence are children exposed to?

Dr. Johnson: There are various types of exposure to violence: direct and indirect, and home and community. Direct refers to things such as physical, sexual, and emotional types of violence a child might experience themselves directly. Indirect is the type of violence that children see out in the community. Home violence is any type of domestic violence, or violence that goes on in the home. And community violence includes the things they hear, see, or witness, such as gunshots or fights in the street.

Does long-term—or chronic—exposure to violence, compared to a singular violent experience, affect children differently?

Dr. Johnson: It really depends on the child and the intensity of the violent experience. If the single incident of violence is something that the child perceives as a threat to their lives, then single exposure can be as damaging as chronic exposure.

However, exposure to chronic violence sets up your system—the brain, the body, your well-being … those types of things—to function in a trauma. So, even if the trauma or the trigger isn’t there, your body will still function like it’s in trauma. But if it’s a single episode of violence, a child might be able to get over that episode, depending on the child and his or her access to support from family, community, and other resources.

It also depends on a child’s age. If you have a young child, infant or toddler, [the impact of] one episode of violence could very well go on for a long time because very young children have limited resources to deal with this type of traumatic experience. An older child has more resources to make sense about what’s going on, and they know they can look out and access support from a parent or friend. But that does not guarantee they are going to be better.

Black children living in poverty are more vulnerable to experiencing violence. Do they have access to the degree of support—such as mental health counseling—that they need?

Dr. Johnson: For children living in poverty, those supports and resources aren’t necessarily there. In those communities, it’s harder to reach. Parents are typically working long hours. And if it’s a single parent, they may be tired from working. And finding the resources and supports without the help of someone else is more difficult. It’s available, but I don’t think people know.

In impoverished areas, I think there is less of a chance that they’ll have the resources or access to them, or even awareness of them.

What types of barriers do African American families face when it comes to getting support for children who may be exposed to violence?

Dr. Johnson: Normally, when we ask people to get involved in therapy, there is a stigma about getting help from mental health professionals, counselors, psychologists, or social workers. In the Black community, this stigma is even more pronounced. Just getting information out isn’t enough. We need agencies to be culturally competent, which means they don’t unintentionally discriminate against a family or do something that might cause a family not to trust.

There’s mistrust in the medical community as a whole, and mental health fits into that. Other barriers include lack of money or transportation. And parents are working, a lot of times. So the question isn’t how they are going to get there, but also when they are going to get there. There’s a tremendous amount of stress around getting resources.

How can we make sure black children have the needed support and create social change that can help break the cycle of violence in these communities?

Dr. Johnson: One of the things that I like to tell people is you don’t have to be a therapist to help. There’s an old adage, ‘It takes a village to raise a child,’ an African proverb, and I really take that to heart. One of the things a child or adolescent needs to know is that they matter. So, we’ve got to show them in many different ways that they are important and that we are here for them just to listen.

In the community itself, if we could organize places of safety, where children have people they knew were safe, and could listen to them—they could be teachers, pastors, places of faith or worship—and say, ‘We’re here, we care, and we want to talk about it.’ That makes a big difference.

Of course, as counselors and clinical mental health professionals, we want to go into the community and do some direct therapeutic interventions. It could be psychoeducational, workshops, or training to help people make sense of it, identify signs and symptoms, know what to do and how to respond, and where to go if they need further help. We’d like to make those connections with them, and we’d like them to connect with one another.


Dr. Johnson is a core faculty member in Walden’s MS in Clinical Mental Health Counseling program. He is an expert on mental wellness and development in children and presents around the world on the topic. His professional career includes providing mental health counseling to children, couples, families, individuals, and groups.

Wondering How to Make a Difference? Become a Counselor.

If you’re interested in helping children exposed to violence, consider a career in counseling.

A master’s degree is typically required for a career as a licensed clinical mental health counselor. If you already hold a bachelor’s degree, the next step in your college education would be to earn an MS in Clinical Mental Health Counseling.

Walden’s online clinical mental health counseling master’s degree program can help prepare you to pursue licensure as a mental health professional. With a counseling degree, you might become a child and family therapist, a substance abuse (addiction) counselor, a military counselor, or another type of licensed clinical mental health counselor.

Prepare to change lives with a career in counseling. Get started on your counseling master’s degree today.

Walden University is an accredited institution offering an MS in Clinical Mental Health Counseling degree program online. Expand your career options and earn your degree in a convenient, flexible format that fits your busy life.


Walden University is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission,

Walden University’s MS in Clinical Mental Health Counseling program is accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP), a specialized accrediting body recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA). CACREP accreditation is a requirement for licensure in many states.

Note on licensure: The MS in Clinical Mental Health Counseling program is designed to prepare graduates to qualify to sit for licensing exams and to meet the academic licensure requirements of many state counseling boards. Because no graduate program can guarantee licensure upon graduation, we encourage students to consult the appropriate agency to determine specific requirements. For more information about licensure, students should visit the National Board for Certified Counselors at and/or the American Association of State Counseling Boards at, and contact the appropriate licensing body. Learn more about professional licensure.