About the Trauma-Informed Care for Children and Families Act of 2017

More than 67% of American children have experienced a traumatic incident by age 16.

That means nearly 7 out of 10 children have been exposed to sexual abuse, domestic abuse, or neglect by their junior year of high school.

Some traumatic incidents last months, or years, long enough for a child’s entire view of the world and themselves to change. Even brief events can cause children to spend years worrying they could happen again. Trauma not only leads to children’s unhappiness, but to social problems including higher rates of crime and incarceration, heroin addiction, and unemployment for victims of trauma.

As Emily Neal, Mercy Home’s clinical director, has said: “Trauma is a public health crisis.”

And it’s one that Mercy Home is committed to solving. That’s why Mercy Home has endorsed a bill currently before the U.S. Senate: the Trauma-Informed Care for Children and Families Act of 2017

What is the bill?

The Trauma-Informed Care for Children and Families Act of 2017 was a bill placed before the U.S. Senate earlier this year to address the public health crisis of trauma in children.

What is trauma?

We have written a lot on the nature of trauma and how it affects children. Sometimes trauma is a one-time event, but more often it is a complex, long-term event that completely changes a child’s view of herself and her world. Sexual abuse, neglect, rape, and domestic violence are among the most common traumatic events that children face.

What are the main functions of this bill?

It sets up a federal task force with representatives from 30+ relevant agencies to:

  • Create a set of best practices that benefit kids who have survived trauma & their families that includes:
    • Being able to identify children & families who have experienced or are at risk of experiencing trauma
    • Efficiently referring young trauma survivors to resources that can provide the best specialized treatment to them
    • Implementing “trauma-informed” approaches and interventions in schools, businesses, homes, nonprofits, and other settings to foster environments where trauma survivors feel safe and are able to heal
  • Recommend the set of relevant best practices to government agencies, health agencies, nonprofits, and the general public
  • Maintain and update this set of best practices

Why is trauma a problem?

Trauma causes serious long-term problems both for the survivor and society.

On an individual level, the despair of trauma can lead to depression, trouble paying attention, anxiety, and behavioral problems in school. If left unchecked, these reactions can continue long enough to thwart a survivor’s education and social abilities, which can lead to everything from trouble making friends into adulthood to lifelong poverty and increased likelihood of incarceration or drug abuse.

On a social level, these higher rates of poverty, incarceration, and drug abuse carry a high cost to society. The social services required to maintain prisons, issue food stamps and unemployment, and hospitalize addicts are expensive. If it’s possible to stop trauma or alleviate it early on, the costs of these services to society could be lowered.

So isn’t the solution just to get trauma survivors in therapy, then they’ll be fixed?

It’s more complicated than that.

The main problem this bill address is that, while we have plenty of what it calls “evidence-based trauma-informed treatment” for survivors (we’ll get to that term in a minute), that therapy is rarely being implemented.

The solutions aren’t always as easy as they might sound. Many of the makeshift solutions we had in the past for misbehaving kids have turned out only to punish behavior, not to correct it.

For instance, imagine a child who is neglected at home and so he acts out in school for attention despite a teacher’s repeated warnings to stop. The overworked teacher, needing to gain control of the classroom, suspends the child. Unfortunately, while this removes the child’s distraction from a classroom, misbehaving children are often unclear on why they have been suspended. Then, as soon as they’re back in the classroom, they misbehave again.

In fact, we have therapy solutions that can not only stop behaviors that originated in trauma, but can help children understand why they should make a better decision next time.

Unfortunately, information about these kinds of therapy are not widely available from trusted sources, and trusted sources who do have evidence that these therapies work don’t have a convenient channel to release them nationwide to stop the “public health crisis of trauma.”

One of the most important functions of this bill is to create that channel by linking social service agencies, schools, and federal agencies to understand the nature of trauma and how to intervene in the lives of its survivors not only for their benefit but to effect change in the nationwide attitude toward resolving trauma. Trauma causes serious long-term problems both for the survivor and society.

On an individual level, the despair of trauma can lead to depression, trouble paying attention, anxiety, and behavioral problems in school. If left unchecked, these reactions can continue long enough to thwart a survivor’s education and social abilities, which can lead to everything from trouble making friends into adulthood to lifelong poverty and increased likelihood of incarceration or drug abuse.

On a social level, these higher rates of poverty, incarceration, and drug abuse carry a high cost to society. The social services required to maintain prisons, issue food stamps and unemployment, and hospitalize addicts are expensive. If it’s possible to stop trauma or alleviate it early on, the costs of these services to society could be lowered.

OK, so what is ‘evidence-based trauma-informed treatment’? How does it prevent trauma and mitigate its effects in victims’ lives?

It’s a long term that essentially means: We’ve gotten ourselves into this public health crisis because we haven’t been identifying and treating trauma in ways where we can measure their effectiveness. Perhaps we can’t measure them, or when we have measured them they have turned out to be ineffective. So let’s respond to trauma and its effects with treatments we know work.

One of these approaches that we use at Mercy Home is the ARC Framework. ARC stands for (A)ttachment, (R)egulation, and (C)ompetency. When we recognize a student has survived a trauma, we look at what factors might have led them away from normal development and work to restore their healthy development in the areas of ARC:

    • Attachment: Creation of a safe caregiving system able to support youth in meeting developmental, emotional, and relational needs.
    • Regulation: The ability to safely regulate, identify, tolerate, and share experience on emotional, physiological, cognitive, and behavioral levels.
    • Competency: Support in the mastery of an array of tasks crucial to resilient outcomes, including the ability to set goals and make active choices to develop an appropriate sense of self.


Our implementation of ARC has allowed us to lead our children toward healthy, productive lives. It’s also a framework that studies have widely cited as effective. Unfortunately, our resources are limited in spreading the word about how it has helped our children. This bill would get the word out.

How does this bill help spread the word about treatments like Mercy Home’s?

The set of best practices that the task force generates will be disseminated to schools, churches, hospitals, doctors’ offices, and other youth care agencies. So, on the most basic level, these resources will have information that was difficult to find before.

The bill also aims to efficiently refer trauma survivors to resources that can prevent trauma or mitigate its effects early enough for meaningful intervention. After trauma survivors are referred to these resources, they can be more effectively treated.

What does Mercy Home hope to get out of endorsing the bill?

Mercy Home takes its role as a leader in Chicago’s child mental health care community seriously. We aim not only to provide the best care possible to the children who enter our doors, but who enter our community’s schools, churches, and health care centers. This bill will not only help us help our children better, it will make children’s lives better all across our community.

It will help us make sure we are on the right track in providing care for our children and will spread the word about the effectiveness of the kind of care we provide.

It also strengthens our relationships with our children’s schools. By making information about trauma-informed treatment care options widely available, our children can spend more time in the classroom gaining valuable knowledge and less time outside the classroom in punishments that are ineffective in showing them how to learn from their mistakes.

We hope to be able to provide additional training for our youth care staff, so they can always be up-to-date on the best practices for helping our children recover from trauma.

I give to Mercy Home because it’s 99.6% privately funded, and I know you rely on my support to help your kids. Why are you now looking for government grant money?

Mercy Home supports this bill regardless of whether we personally benefit from the grant money available when the bill is passed. We want evidence-based trauma-informed treatment to become the norm in our community because we believe it is in the interests of our children and the adults who stand to benefit from lower crime and poverty around us.

Beyond that, this bill stands to save taxpayers a lot of money. A 2008 study by Washington State found that every $1 invested in evidence-based trauma-informed treatments for survivors and their families returned $3.64 in social costs. The estimated lifetime burden of child mistreatment cases that happen every year in America is $124 billion, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. So, if we could stop just one year’s worth of child abuse in America, it would be the equivalent of saving about 2 years of the entire annual U.S. budget for food stamps.

How can I help this bill get passed?

You can use our form to contact your Representative and urge them to support the bill.  Additionally, you can find your senator here and call to ask them to support the bill.

On another level, you can spread the word by sharing a link to this post and asking your friends to contact their Representatives to voice their support for the bill.

And of course, your support of Mercy Home allows us to spread the word about important causes like this one and to remain a leader in treatment-informed trauma base care.

Thank you for your friendship to our children.

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