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.