Federal, State, City and Community Leaders Announce New Mental Health Initiative for New Haven
(3/4/2013) On Monday, March 4th, partners from the city, state and federal level joined forces with New Haven Public Schools and community organizations to announce intentions to seek funding for a plan which will identify, support and help heal children and families dealing with trauma and the high stress from poverty. Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro, Mayor John DeStefano Jr., Superintendent of Schools Dr. Reginald Mayo and State Senator Toni Harp gathered with community leaders at Metropolitan Business Academy to highlight the outstanding collaborative work already being done in schools and the community and to talk about the creation of a Community Resilience Initiative, which seeks to create a safer, healthier community for children and families.
The recent tragedy in Newtown highlights the devastation a community can face when mental health disorders are ignored and untreated. Early exposure to traumatic experiences in childhood can take a heavy toll on social development, emotional and physical wellbeing, and chances at success in school and in life.
The social and financial cost of ignoring childhood trauma is enormous. Our City, State and Federal dollars are being spent on the back end to cover the costs of emergency room visits, DCF out of home placements, police calls for service, incarceration, the aftermath of violence in our community, and the many costs associated with students who struggle in school who later become adults who struggle in life. Fortunately, the course can be corrected, and a child who is exposed to Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) and who receives treatment may not only heal, but can indeed thrive. “As a City, we propose doing the smart thing—both financially and in terms of preventing suffering—by moving our investment to the front end, intervening and preventing the lifelong effects of ACEs on our young people,” said New Haven Mayor DeStefano, Jr. “And, we propose measuring the savings from putting the money upfront, into prevention rather than at the back end, to make this a model not only for New Haven but for other communities.”
Children in New Haven experience high numbers of ACE events, which can include neglect, physical abuse, malnutrition or witnessing violence in the home. One recent pilot program administered ACE screenings to 176 kindergarteners at Strong School. The results were astonishing – 90 percent of kindergarteners reported experiencing ACE events, but only 23 percent were currently displaying symptoms. This means that 67 percent of these students are experiencing ACEs, but are unidentified and untreated, allowing the issues to worsen until they eventually display themselves years later.
Early exposure to ACEs significantly increases the risk of mental health disorders. Children exposed to ACEs who are left untreated face greater risk of incarceration and violence, and they will likely struggle academically – if not altogether abandon school.
“It takes a village – or a community – to raise a child. This is not an issue that any single entity in the City can solve on its own. We need to come together as a community to make sure our children and families have the resources they need to live healthy, happy lives. Ensuring that children have the emotional and mental health supports they need are important factors in determining both academic and life success. This coalition and these strategies address this fact and doing so will only result in a stronger, better and safer community for all of us,” said Superintendent Dr. Mayo.
The Community Resilience Initiative will be implemented by utilizing the existing community infrastructure in order to provide screening and treatment for children with traumatic experiences; to reach parents, families and/or guardians in order to provide education and support, and finally, to run a community-wide media campaign that will seek to both educate the public about the impact of untreated childhood trauma and to lessen the stigma of mental illness.
The Community Resilience Initiative will be implemented, overseen and provided with strategic guidance through the creation of the “New Haven Trauma Coalition.” The New Haven Trauma Coalition will oversee the three areas of outreach for the initiative: children, families and the community.
The first outreach and implementation area is aimed at providing screening and treatment, as necessary, for children and will take place through entities that have primary contact with children, including the New Haven Public Schools and Boost!
The second area of outreach and implementation (screening and treatment as well as education and support) will focus on reaching families, parents and/or guardians of children and will take place through partnering with existing community organizations.
The third area of outreach and implementation will focus on a community media strategy aimed at educating the public about the impact of untreated childhood trauma and reducing the stigma of mental illness.
Also giving remarks Monday were Dr. Alice Forrester, executive director of the Clifford Beers Clinic and a member of Governor Dannel Malloy’s Sandy Hook Advisory Commission; Dr. Fay Brown, of the Comer School Development Program and State Senator Toni Harp, co-chair of the Mental Health Working Group of the Bipartisan Task Force on Gun Violence Prevention and Children’s Safety and co-chair of the Appropriations Committee.
The coalition includes numerous partners, including many who attended Monday’s press conference: Boost!, The United Way of Greater New Haven, the New Haven MOMS Partnership, Clifford Beers Clinic, the Foundation for Arts and Trauma, New Haven Public Schools, City of New Haven, the Community Foundation for Greater New Haven, Comer School Development Program, Yale Child Study Center, New Haven Family Alliance and others.