CHICAGO, July 11, 2017—Mercy Home for Boys & Girls is urging the public to support legislation introduced in both houses of Congress that would help front-line professionals recognize and respond to psychological trauma in children and teens. In the end, such an intensified national effort can reduce the violence that plagues too many communities by addressing its root causes.
The Trauma-Informed Care for Children and Families Act of 2017 will help teachers, doctors, social-service providers, first responders, and others better assist children who have experienced trauma and toxic stress as a result of their exposure to violence, domestic abuse, neglect, or poverty.
Today, we understand more than ever about the long-term impact of trauma and stress on a child’s developing brain, health, and life chances. Further, we have a greater awareness today of the relationship between childhood trauma and the perpetuation of cycles of violence. A 2004 study of youth in the Cook County Juvenile Detention Center, for example, showed that 92% had experienced trauma.
Traumatic experiences can severely impact concentration, self-regulation, behavior, and even physical health. And yet many people who have daily contact with affected children can only see the symptoms of these experiences and not the underlying trauma. The Trauma-Informed Care for Children and Families Act of 2017 is an opportunity to confront the problem at its source by providing federal support for those who work directly with children and families. Properly supported, these professionals will be a critical force in breaking the cycle of violence in our communities and which will, in turn, reduce its devastating impact on a generation.
Based in Chicago, Mercy Home for Boys & Girls works directly with children who struggle with the persistent psychological and physiological effects of trauma wrought by exposure to violence, abuse, and neglect. The Home’s clinical director Emily Neal describes how she and her colleagues are informed in their approach to treatment by relatively recent scientific evidence of altered brain functioning caused by traumatic early experiences. Where practitioners once used psychological, emotional, and behavioral terms to diagnose the effects of trauma, Neal said, “there’s been a shift from ‘what’s wrong with you to what’s happened to you?’ I think this really sums up what trauma-informed care is all about,” said Neal.
Mercy Home has built its current model of child care on a framework called ARC, which stands for Attachment, Regulation, and Competency, and was developed by the Trauma Center at Justice Resource Institute of Massachusetts. Neal and coworker Jeremy Karpen are now trained and credentialed to consult with youth care agencies across the country to help them apply the ARC framework. In addition, Mercy Home staff is training educators in several Chicago schools on how to recognize the signs of trauma in students.
“We can only care for so many children within our walls,” said Rev. L. Scott Donahue, Mercy Home’s President and CEO. “But we want to do everything we can with the resources and expertise we have to help more children. This bill meets the kids where they’re at by making sure that those who work with them on a daily basis are equipped to understand and respond to their needs.”
Visitors to Mercy Home’s website can locate their Congressional representatives and send them an email in support of the bill. They are also urged to urge others to add their voices as well.
The proposed legislation will place a national spotlight on the hidden effects of violence and trauma while providing better coordination of services to change the trajectory of children’s lives.
According to the bill’s sponsors, it will:
- Create a federal task force to coordinate efforts and establish best practices for identifying and supporting children that have experienced trauma
- Fund grants to train more teachers, doctors, social service providers, and first responders
- Expand Medicaid coverage for trauma services and increase mental health care in schools
- Invest in professionals who would provide behavioral health care in our communities
- Identify needs and focus efforts in communities