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New Trauma Coalition Offers Post-Newtown Plan

by Paul Bass | Mar 4, 2013 2:28 pm

(5) Comments | Commenting has been closed | E-mail the Author

Posted to: Health, Schools

Paul Bass Photo Give New Haven $6.5 million, and we’ll show you one big way to respond to the horror of Newtown.

That, in essence, is the pitch of a new drive announced Monday to stay on top of the trauma so many kids bring with them to school these days.

A host of New Haven politicians, school officials, and social-service agency workers unveiled that pitch at a press conference at Metropolitan Business Academy.

They announced formation of the New Haven Trauma Coalition. They’re drawing up proposals to seek the $6.5 million from the state government, as well as from the feds and from philanthropies, in the midst of all the discussions taking place about how to handle young people’s mental health problems before they produce violent acts.

That $6.5 million would help the coalition—made up of government and agencies in the mental-health trenches like the Clifford Beers Clinic, the Comer School Development Program, United Way’s Boost!, and Yale Child Study Center—arrange for every New Haven public school student to get screened once a year to see if they are wrestling with effects of being beaten by an adult or losing a home or going hungry or living around drug abuse or seeing a parent stabbed or a friend shot.

The money would help the coalition bring to every school the kind of help that exists at Metropolitan Business Academy, a city high school. The school has art therapists sit down with kids acting out in class to find out about troubles they may have experienced outside of school, then having counselors ready to help the kids, for instance. Principal Judy Puglisi said these efforts have helped cut the number of suspensions and up the number of students successfully completing ninth grade.

The money would help public schools bring back the “Comer Method” in full—the process of having teachers and social workers talk out problems with kids causing trouble in class. Click here to read about how that has worked at Davis Street School; click on the video to watch scenes from a “morning meeting” that starts the process.

The money would also beef up work already taking place in the community, like the partnership between city cops and Yale child shrinks dealing with kids who experience violence, and the creation of mobile centers at public-housing projects where parents can find counseling for themselves or their kids.

Speakers at Monday morning’s press conference spoke of how many students, perhaps even a majority, nowadays wrestle with problems caused by exposure to traumatic events. Left untreated, those problems can harm kids’ brain development and lead them to fail in school and end up in jail.

They offered this statistic: 90 percent of 176 kindergarteners recently screened at Strong School had suffered an “ACE” or “Adverse Childhood Experience.” In plain language, that means something horrible happened to them or around them that could potentially mess them up for life. Yet only 23 percent were showing symptoms so far of the problems that develop as a result. Hence the need for screenings, and follow-up.

“Violence is a public health epidemic,” said state Sen. Toni Harp (pictured with Clifford Beers Clinic’s Alice Forrester and U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro), who co-chairs the Mental Health Working Group of the legislature’s Bipartisan Task Force on Gun Violence Prevention and Children’s Safety. The legislature created that task force after December’s massacre of schoolchildren in Newtown. New Haven was already working on this Trauma Coalition before that, but went into high planning gear after the massacre.

Laoise King, a United Way vice-president who is helping to draw up the new coalition’s requests for money, broke down the plan: $70,000 for a staff person to run; $100,000 per city school to beef up the mental-health support, or about $4.7 million overall; $1.3 million for community training efforts like New Haven MOMS and work with day-care centers; and $450,000 to boost the work of public health initiatives like the police-child shrink partnership. The money would pay for the first year of the citywide effort.

Click here for a detailed summary on the request.

That’s a big ask from a state with a budget mess, even with the post-Newtown spotlight still focusing concern on children’s mental health. King said the city aims to convince the state that New Haven can serve as a “pilot” for the state. “We’ve going to show this is a cost-saving” approach, she said. To that end, organizers would collect lots of data, tracking what happens to emergency room visits, child-welfare referrals, police calls for service, school attendance, standardized test scores, and drop-out rates when traumatized kids get the help they need.

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posted by: cedarhillresident! on March 4, 2013  2:44pm

I like this idea. We talk about breaking the cycle and blah blah blah. This program, that program ect and none of them really work. But this I like. And as we all know I am a cynic.

My guess is there are far more kids in bad situations than one cares to admit. So the one question I have is how do you follow up once a child is found to have trauma? It takes something this big to make the change. I pray it works.

posted by: anonymous on March 4, 2013  4:07pm

Great idea but what if we also had $7 million to hire youth from the neighborhoods hit by 50%+ unemployment?  One of the best ways to good mental health & staying out of prison is having a job.

Currently, we give almost all of those jobs to people who live in the suburbs (like some of the folks who want money to expand mental health programs) and virtually none to the neighborhoods where our school kids most come from.

posted by: cedarhillresident! on March 4, 2013  4:39pm

very good point anon! Many of the youth in my area say there is no jobs for them. Good old fashion ethics is a must. And like Ferp’s work program. they can also contribute to the city’s improvement.

But kids that are in these positions may lack the very basic skills to be able to even last a day in even a city work program for a variety of reasons.

posted by: Christopher Schaefer on March 5, 2013  8:56pm

And just who, in New Haven’s one-party political system, will define “Adverse Childhood Experiences” or “symptoms” thereof—particularly when 77% do NOT display ANY symptoms? Will an “Adverse Childhood Experience” mean a child whose parent belongs to a politically-incorrect religion? Or whose parent is not registered with THE Party? Or whose parent is not a city or union employee? We certainly wouldn’t want to touch upon the fact that the vast majority of children who segue into a life of crime and violence come from broken, single-parent families. And that the best way to stop such development is to promote and enhance the family. But, in reality, the REAL goal here is political correctness— $4.7 million for schools, $1.3 million “to support technical assistance”, and $450,000 “to spread awareness”—all surrounded by the delusional, deceptive aura of “politicians fixing society’s problems”—because that’s what wins votes in New Haven and in CT.

posted by: jenand on March 8, 2013  7:24pm

Love this focus on children. They suffer, so often, in silence. Unrecognized and unserved, when this state has an enormous pool of outstanding mental health professionals.
    Sometimes, it only takes a few interventions to allay a child’s fears and anxieties. “Seeing” them is half the battle. Money ever well spent.

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