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For first time, SAMHSA's annual children’s mental health event focuses on trauma


(l to r) First Ladies Tonette Walker (WI), Linda Daugaard (SD),  Kristin Cooper (NC),  Diane Rauner (IL), Susan Hutchinson (AR), and Donna Walker (AK); Jacqueline Pata, National Congress of American Indians, HHS Secretary Alex Azar II, and Assistant Secretary for Mental Health and Substance Abuse, Elinore McCance-Katz.

It is both remarkable and natural that the theme of the 2018 Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) May 10th Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day event was “Partnering for Health and Hope Following Trauma”. It was remarkable to hear “ACEs” and “trauma-informed” roll off the tongues of all the federal officials (some seasoned, some new appointees in the Trump Administration). And natural as the awareness of ACEs science grows at lightning speed…at least it feels that way. 

The theme was developed through short videos, brief statements from pre-selected audience members, comments from awardees, and through a series of topical “discussions” focused on trauma-informed services and systems in mental health, the military, child welfare and primary care.  The moderator was Aaron Gilchrist of NBC4 Washington, a genial and engaged presence throughout the evening. Belying its billing as a “virtual town hall,” the two-hour live webcast event held at a 400+ seat auditorium at George Washington University was a largely scripted, high polished production.

Moments of spontaneity stood out—once when Gilchrist seemed unable to hold back expressing his admiration to Valerie VanAuker, a mother who struggled to find support and help for her traumatized children, saying “you are just so awesome,” and a small eruption of support from the audience when Gary Blau, SAMHSA’s chief of children’s mental health, was introduced.

Psychiatrist Elinore McCance-Katz, the first person to hold the new position of Assistant Secretary for Mental Health and Substance Abuse (created in the 21stCentury Cures Act), opened the evening and later welcomed Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex M. Azar II who presented awards to Jacqueline Pata of the National Congress of American Indians and the governors’ spouses for their work in promoting trauma-informed care. First Lady of Wisconsin Tonette Walker accepted the award on behalf of the governors’ spouses.  Mrs. Walker had met earlier in the day with a group of mental health advocates as reported on by Helga Luest in ACEs Connection. Luest said that policy issues related to trauma have gained prominence in the mental health advocacy world over the last few years and the response to Mrs. Walker was enthusiastic. 

Gilchrist, Daugaard, & Hutchinson
Aaron Gilchrist, NBC4 Washington, First Ladies Linda Daugaard (SD) and Susan Hutchinson (AR)

A number of first spouses talked about their involvement in children’s issues in their states during their tenure as first spouses and before in their careers or volunteer work. First Lady Susan Hutchinson of Arkansas, who is active with children’s advocacy centers in the state, spoke movingly about a young child who feared he might be pregnant after he was sexually violated. South Dakota’s First Lady, Linda Daugaard, spoke about the importance of training foster parents about trauma and how Laura Porter and Dr. Robert Anda of ACE Interface provided training in her state. 

Stewart & Evans
Altha Stewart, American Psychiatric Association President and Arthur Evans, American Psychological Association CEO

Speakers from the floor included Dr. Altha Stewart, the newly inducted president of the American Psychiatric Association, and Dr. Arthur Evans, CEO of the American Psychological Association and former commissioner of Philadelphia’s Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbility Service.

In addition to the Washington, DC, event, SAMHSA encouraged and supported community events, reporting that more than 1,100 events to observe National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day have been planned.  A sample of these activities by state is available here. 

Leading supporters of the event included the Campaign for Trauma Informed Policy and Practice, American Psychiatric Association, American Psychiatric Association Foundation, American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, National Council for Behavioral Health, The Annie E. Casey Foundation, and American Psychological Association. 


Images (2)
  • Stewart & Evans
  • Gilchrist, Daugaard, & Hutchinson

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