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California Assemblyman Hosts Discussion On Strenghtening Youth Trauma Care

Arash Zandi |
April 6, 2014 | 8:51 p.m. PDT

Staff Reporter

The hearing featured many experts in the field of trauma and trauma informed care. (Arash Zandi/Neon Tommy)
The hearing featured many experts in the field of trauma and trauma informed care. (Arash Zandi/Neon Tommy)
Assemblymember and Chair of the Assembly Select Committee on Delinquency Prevention and Youth Development Roger Dickinson hosted a hearing Friday at the Los Angeles Public Library on the subject of trauma informed care of young people.

“By isolating and punishing them we are simply failing to address the root cause of the behavior and we’re doing less than our best to ensure a young person’s success in school,” said Dickinson.

Joining Dickinson was the President and CEO of health foundation California Endowment, Robert Ross who noted that trauma is the top indicator of misbehavior in class and obesity and that young people living in low income communities seem to suffer stronger effects of trauma than those living in higher income communities.

For every 100 children that experience chronic trauma, only 12 percent receive help from formal treatment systems. Nationally, 30 percent of children are exposed to complex trauma. In high poverty and other marginalized communities, that percent nearly doubles. African American and LGBT students also significantly suffer more trauma than their peers, affecting their graduation rates and success after school.

“This hearing is groundbreaking, I’m not aware of any other state legislation in the country that has begun to lift this issue up in the way that we have. It puts this issue on the front burner so that we can talk about and understand it,” said Ross.

The effects of trauma first surface in schools. As a result, school-based interventions to overcome trauma are important. California schools are trying to create more of these programs, as twenty-five percent of the state's children live in poverty.

The Los Angeles Unified School District recently opened 13 wellness centers, containing both health and mental health centers. However, those are hardly enough to aide 437,206 students who are economically disadvantaged.

For many children, the adversities that they experience can be extreme and traumatic and repeated and living through traumas, such as sexual and physical abuse, severe neglect and exposure to domestic violence, can take a toll on their lives. Twenty three percent of school aged children in California aged six to 17 had one Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE) and 25 percent experienced two. Children who have had ACEs are three times more likely to repeat a grade in school in California and much less likely to be engaged, thus missing more school. Also, children with special health care needs are more likely to have experienced ACEs.

“This repeated exposure to childhood trauma can lead to similar effects with soldiers with PTSD,” said Dr. Steve Wirtz, Chief of Injury Surveillance and Epidemiology Section at the California Department of Public Health.

Director of The Child and Adolescent Health Measurement Initiative and the National Data Resource Center for Child and Adolescent Health, Dr. Christina Bethell, read a shocking statement: economist James Heckman, among others, believe that The United States will be a third world country in 50-100 years if people don’t start addressing these issues.

“Resilience is a learned capacity. If a child exhibits a baseline level of resilience they are much more likely to be engaged in school. If we build resilience we can do something about this,” said Dr. Bethell.

READ MORE: Street Poets: A Transformative Approach To Healing L.A.’s Youth

Northern California Regional Director of the Children’s Defense Fund, Jamila Edwards Brooks pushed the idea of community-based healing, where providers engage in a long term listening sessions by asking youth about their traumatic experiences and how they’ve coped with them. Restorative Justice and "quiet time" techniques were also discussed as having higher success rates than the traditional disciplinary techniques used in schools.

Lynn Kaplan, director of the Los Angeles Quiet Time Program, said that in the schools she works with, students have a choice between quiet time and transcendental meditation. Quiet time involves two 15 minute sessions where the whole school gets to enjoy rest and quiet. The students that choose to learn Transcendental Meditation (TM) will meditate during that 15 minute session.

“TM allows the mind and body to settle down and the body to gain a profound deep level of rest. When a person practices TM, there is increased blood flow to the brain. UCLA studies found that it has a level of rest that was twice as deep as deep sleep,” said Kaplan.

Restorative Justice Program Specialist of the California Conference for Equality and Justice, Robert Howard explained that a restorative justice program changes the way students are disciplines, since, “ as opposed to giving a student what I think they deserve because they're being defiant, violent or disruptive, I will give them what they need and I will ask them what they need."

Founder and Editor of ACEs Too High and ACEs Connection, Jane Stevens talked about a breakthrough in dealing with ACEs. In 15 Connecticut cities, revolutionary home visiting service, Child First, uses a trauma informed evidence based approach to help kids who have behavioral problems. They also help their parents with basic needs; their own trauma and helping them learn how to bond deeply with their children.

Stevens made it clear that kids having behavior issues is not a disorder, they are symptoms that require a team-effort  to combat.

“There’s a lot that we can do to change the course of young people’s lives by giving them the opportunity to succeed. It’s a very dynamic period and I think over time, trauma informed care will be a national issue,” concluded Dickinson.


Reach Staff Reporter Arash Zandi here. Follow him on Twitter here.



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