Rep. Danny Davis (D-IL), Wendy Ellis, Olga Acosta Price (obscured), Monica Battle, Kathryn Larin, and Whitney Gilliard
The first comprehensive trauma briefing in the U.S. House of Representatives was held on July 26 to an audience of Hill staff, interns, and advocates. The briefing included substantive content from a variety of perspectives—academia, government, education—and unexpected moments of moving personal testimony. Rep. Danny Davis (D-IL) shared the aftermath of the death of his grandson to gun violence in Chicago, and Whitney Gilliard drew upon her painful experiences in foster care from the age of 14 to 21 and final placement with a supportive foster family to offer ways to improve the current system.
Rep. Davis and the Congressional Foster Youth Caucus co-hosted the briefing that was organized by Building Community Resilience (BCR), Redstone Center Redstone for Prevention and Wellness at the George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health, and the Campaign for Trauma Informed Policy and Practice (CTIPP). CTIPP sponsored three other briefings in the U.S. Senate in 2016 that were reported on in ACEs Too High.
BCR Project Director Wendy Ellis, moderated the session “The Need to Address Childhood Trauma: Implications for Child Welfare and Education.” BCR seeks to a build network to improve community well-being by connecting community organizations with larger systems such as health care and education. Test sites include child health systems and community-based partners and initiatives in five cities—Dallas, TX, Washington, DC, Cincinnati, OH, Wilmington, DE, and Portland, OR.
Rep. Davis said his granddaughter has “managed fairly well” after witnessing the murder of her brother but still experiences difficulties. He noted that the circle of his grandchildren’s friends who come together to reminisce have all been affected by his grandson's death. He expressed appreciation for those in the audience who are leading in the work to improve services, saying that mental health is one of the greatest needs that exists in our entire society. Rep. Davis said that his experience years ago as a teacher in North Lawndale— one of the poorest communities in Chicago—had a great impact on his life. The school taught neighborhood children and those who had been incarcerated, he said.
At the end of Whitney Gilliard’s remarks that included her recollections of extreme abuse in childhood and 18 foster placements prior to turning 21, Wendy Ellis, who noted her own high ACE score earlier, asked her to describe the supports that made it possible for her to overcome the adversity she experienced. Gilliard said there were people in her life—particularly foster parents who are now grandparents to her child—who made a huge difference. She also held up supports such as state and local Independent Living programs and guardian ad litem (GAL), noting that the need far exceeds the availability of these programs. Gilliard urged proper training and funding of individuals such as teachers who interact with foster children to recognize and understand the trauma they have experienced.
The webcast of the session is available here. Here is a short summary of the topics discussed by other speakers in the order they appear on the program:
Ellis described the concept of “The Pair of ACEs,” meaning adverse childhood experiences occur within the context of adverse community environments such as poverty, poor housing, and violence outside the home. She said it is important to look at the “full context” of ACEs and include violence in the community as well as hunger and other conditions. She noted the relationship between ACEs and the opioid crisis and how women’s increasing dependence on opioids is affecting children. (Slides attached)
Olga Price, associate professor and director of the National Center for Health and Health Care in Schools at George Washington University School of Public Health, described the value of taking a whole-school approach and the need to address teachers’ stressors as well as those of students. She emphasized the importance of building in sustainability in programs, and blending and braiding funding. (Slides attached).
Monica Battle, principal of College Hill Fundamental Academy in Cincinnati Public Schools told the story of a 12-year-old who came to her school mid-year and wanted to keep her baby boy with her in foster care, but her child was adopted instead. This experience ignited her passion for addressing the issues children face early on and get to the root causes of why children aren’t ready to learn in school.
Kathryn Larin, director of the Education, Workforce, and Income Security Team in the Government Accountability Office (GAO), addressed several issues that were also covered in fact sheets provided at the briefing: psychotropic medications, keeping children in family-based care, and oversight of the Fostering Connections Act.
The presentation of Whitney Gilliard, former foster youth, and her response to Ellis’s question about supports in her life start at 1:11 to 1:20 in the webcast archive.
Rep. Davis and his staffer Angelique Day provided an update on The Trauma Informed Care for Children and Families Act (H.R. 1757, S. 774), saying that over 50 organizations have endorsed the bill; they invited members of Congress to sign on as co-sponsors. Day also mentioned the bipartisan resolution just introduced, H. Res. 443, as reported in ACEsConnection.com. It is a messaging bill that contains three resolves of the House of Representatives:
—recognizes the importance, effectiveness, and need for trauma-informed care among existing programs and agencies at the Federal level;
—encourages the use and practice of trauma-informed care within the Federal Government, its agencies, and the United States Congress; and
—supports the designation of “National Trauma Awareness Month” and the designation of a “National Trauma-Informed Awareness Day” during such month to highlight community resilience through trauma-informed change.
Unlike S. 774/H.R. 1757 (reported on in ACEsTooHigh.com), this resolution does not create programs or authorize funding. Instead, it provides a tool to educate on trauma and ACEs and a way for policymakers to express their interest in the issue.
A briefing attendee asked the panel about the “elephant in the room” and whether the prospect of the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, including changes to Medicaid, was a concern. The answer was “yes”, so there is at least is a reprieve for some since the Senate voted at the end of this week to defeat the repeal and replacement of the ACA.