Social Emotional Development Spotlight: Portland Defending Childhood

This post was written by Barrett Wilkinson from Portland Defending Childhood as a part of the Maine Children’s Alliance’s series on early childhood social and emotional development in Maine.

As the Prevention Coordinator for Portland Defending Childhood (PDC), it is my pleasure to provide a guest post today about our violence prevention work. PDC is an initiative of the City of Portland Public Health Division and Maine Behavioral Healthcare that aims to promote a safe and thriving Portland community through the prevention, intervention and treatment of childhood exposure to violence. PDC is funded by the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention and part of the national Defending Childhood Initiative.

Our initiative helps to broaden the understanding that the brain is built over time and from the bottom up, like a house, and that exposure to violence (especially when exposure is ongoing or repeated), can cause toxic stress, which weakens the brain’s architecture. The impact on the brain’s architecture can influence health, learning and behavior across the lifespan. This is why PDC is putting in place strategies to prevent the impact of violence exposure in our community, and reduce the effects of violence through evidence-based clinical treatments.

One aspect of our project is to ensure children and youth in Portland learn foundational social and emotional skills in school—skills used throughout life like cooperation, problem solving and conflict resolution. These types of competencies are essential for children on the playground as well as in the classroom and, like learning to read, are skills that need to be taught. Because social and emotional skills are linked to multiple positive outcomes for young people, PDC has worked to implement curricula in over one hundred Portland classrooms using the Second Step program. This curriculum includes interactive sessions, scenarios, and music to support teachers as they break down social-emotional skills in age appropriate ways. PDC consistently hears from educators about the value of this resource to their classrooms, and the project has forged close ties with Portland public schools.

Curriculum work is just one tool in PDC’s violence prevention toolbox. In addition, we offer professional development training to a wide array of providers, parents, and educators on the signs, symptoms and prevention of childhood exposure to violence and trauma. PDC funds nurse home visiting services as well as legal and advocacy services for children who have been exposed to violence, and their families. Through Maine Behavioral Healthcare, PDC provides evidence-based trauma treatment to children and youth in Portland regardless of ability to pay. Finally, in partnership with Maine Medical Center, PDC is launching system-wide screening for violence exposure and trauma in pediatric settings.

PDC is at the forefront of a national movement to prevent, protect and heal children exposed to violence.  Solving the crisis of childhood exposure to violence takes a collaborative, community effort. We invite you to get involved and get in touch! To learn more about PDC please visit our website and join our mailing list at  Our PSA on toxic stress can be viewed here.



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