Study on violence and children nears halfway point

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Posted June 18, 2021 | By Nick Wineriter, Special to the Ocala Gazette

Nearly a year into a two-year study to better understand how violence affects local children, the Public Policy Institute of Marion County is gathering some interesting data.

Dama Abshier, a psychologist leading the study for the PPI, said the study so far has shown that children who experience traumatic events such as community violence and poverty-related issues are often at increased risk for behavior-related problems.

Those problems may include aggressive and disruptive behaviors, which can lead to problems in school and brushes with the juvenile justice system.

The local PPI’s first study in 2000 focused on how domestic violence and child abuse influenced a child’s propensity for violence. The current study expands on that effort.

“Family violence is somewhat too narrow,” Abshier said. “This study program takes into account all forms of violence, and also emphasizes gun violence.”

The study focuses on children from pre-kindergarten through middle school. It also looks at the children’s parents or guardians. The PPI hopes to come up with recommendations that will address the underlying issues.

The study’s objective is “to reduce and eliminate violence in Marion County, and to improve positive outcomes for families and children.” The goals are to improve children’s reading levels, increase academic performance, enhance social skills and behavior, and develop spiritual relations and moral character.

The institute started developing the study in 2019, but the COVID-19 pandemic, which started last March, caused a delay in the kickoff.

“Typically, it’s about two years of study and identifying the problem,” Abshier said. “This one has gone beyond that because of the pandemic. Things got started a little late, and we’ve been meeting virtually.”

Once complete, the group will publish the study along with its recommendations on improving outcomes.

The PPI’s stated vision is to help improve the community by identifying and researching the major issues that are negatively impacting the quality of life.

“PPI is a group of volunteers that seek to identify key issues and challenges facing Marion County. Once a challenge is prioritized, a study is organized to identify key factors impacting the citizens, and recommendations are developed that have the potential to enhance and positively impact the community,” said Jerone Gamble, PPI board chairman.

The local group formed in 1999, and past studies focused on homelessness, early education, access to healthcare and more.

“There are about seventy to eighty people, all volunteers, who work on the study, involving distribution and communication, with about twenty to thirty people taking part in the weekly meetings,” said Abshier. “But we need more. We need to have some recruitment. Word of mouth is our predominant driving force.”

Those interested in serving on the PPI study team or any of its subcommittees can contact Abshier at For information about the study or PPI, contact Gamble at (352) 454-5720.

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