Twitter: vakids

Author Archives: Voices for VA's Kids

  1. Youth Mental Health Crisis

    Leave a Comment
    Written by Voices’ intern Abby Aquije

    Increasing mental health resources and access to behavioral health services is a necessary step to mend our youth mental health crisis. If we are truly committed to ending this crisis, we must also consider what factors lead to the situation getting this bad. What is different about our youth today? What has gotten us to this crisis point?

    Youth are feeling alone and disconnected

    Our youth are facing an unprecedented number of stressors that can explain rising rates of depression and anxiety among children and adolescents. Gen Z youth are experiencing stress from sources ranging from school demands to family issues, and even “eco anxiety.” Though these statistics tell us that most youth are struggling with similar hardships, those that work closest to them assure us that this is not how they see it. Recent conversations with Virginia youth directors have made it clear that a key element in this crisis is that youth are feeling alone and disconnected from those around them.

    Most of us have been there, feeling as if we are the only ones stressing about school, social image, or family issues, when in reality the majority of us go through similar issues. As a society, we are becoming more open about mental health issues, yet, there is more to be done. If youth do not feel comfortable talking about their struggles, they will continue to feel alone. Think of a student falling behind in a class. On top of feeling the academic stress, they may also feel shame, which could lead to feelings of isolation and then more serious mental health issues. Even in the Netherlands – whose COVID-19 response included short lockdowns, equitable funding, and high rates of broadband access – student test results revealed a learning loss. How can a student blame themselves for something that is happening globally, even in “best case” scenarios? Why is it that they feel shame rather than solidarity?

    The COVID-19 pandemic has worsened the already concerning rates of loneliness

    Loneliness is being described as an epidemic, with over 60% of young adults feeling it. They are unable to connect with those around them and have to tackle their challenges alone. This all makes the perfect recipe for deteriorating physical and mental health issues that must be addressed.

    High rates of youth loneliness can easily be attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic: the nationwide lockdowns, social distancing, and virtual schooling all caused disconnection. Efforts to boost human connection were admirable, but the damage is done. No amount of virtual connection can make up for the formative middle school years, high school celebrations, and other important in-person experiences youth missed. While it is easy to point fingers at the pandemic, we cannot forget that these rates were rising prior to it. Social media and changing family structures also play a role in limiting the connections youth build with one another.

    Program Response: Employ connectedness strategies

    As we move forward, we have to be more intentional about forming and maintaining connections. Those that work with youth should prioritize creating spaces for youth to meet and truly connect with one another. Youth thrive when they feel they belong, they need to know that people hear and care about them.

    Most parents and caregivers know the importance of forming secure attachment in early childhood and actively work toward developing it. Attachment building paves the way for healthy and independent children, however, as they grow up there is less of an emphasis on developing and maintaining these sorts of connections. It is important for kids to learn independence, but no one can survive on their own, not physically or mentally. It is no surprise that youth connectedness is a protective factor for negative mental health outcomes and that the CDC supports the implementation of connectedness strategies, policies, and activities. As we move forward, we must value building youth connections just as much as we do infant attachment building.

    Policymakers should push for Peer Support Services before crises arise

    Peer support is an evidence-based practice used to help individuals cope with mental health challenges and improve quality of life. In addition to being cost-saving, it has been shown to be more effective than usual care for treating depression, and is especially engaging for “difficult to reach” individuals. Virginia already has qualified peer support providers that use their lived experience with mental health and substance use disorders to help others with their recovery. These providers are important for recovery once mental health challenges arise; however, their experience can also be beneficial for preventative measures before the issues arise. Programs like Hoos Connected, at the University of Virginia, use a form of peer support by having upperclassmen facilitators bring students together to develop meaningful connections with one another.  Students that participate in these programs report feeling significantly less depressed and as a former facilitator, I can attest to the difference the 9-week program makes. Despite its limitations – mainly the challenge of enrolling youth into a “feelings” class – there is a lot of promise to programs like these.

    Combating the loneliness epidemic will take time as it requires youth buy-in and societal shifting. Working alongside young people as we continue to research and develop solutions will be essential as we move forward in an effort to improve the overall mental health of our youth.

  2. 2022 General Assembly Budget Passes with Bipartisan Progress for Kids

    Leave a Comment

    Click here to register for our upcoming Zoom webinar on June 14 as we discuss General Assembly results and what they mean for children and families in Virginia.

    After several months of negotiations and discussions among key decision makers, the General Assembly has reached an agreement on the budget. This year’s budget had notable investments in early education, foster care, and children’s mental health through bipartisan support. Since budgets are a reflection of priorities, we believe there are improvements Virginia can make to demonstrate its commitment to young people in the commonwealth.

    Notable investments in the final budget compromise include:

    • Expanding affordable, accessible early childhood education for young children around the state. The budget builds on Governor Northam’s vision to expand early childhood programming and provides funding for regional initiatives in Southwest Virginia and early intervention services for infants and toddlers with developmental delays.
    • State funding for school-based mental health integration projects linking mental health services into schools. The legislature approved $2.5 million for school-based mental health projects as well as the first regional recovery high school in Virginia.
    • New initiatives to address long-standing challenges in the child welfare system include replacing the outdated child welfare data tracking system and the iFoster web-based portal for youth, expanded regional collaboration for foster placements, and additional support for foster youth seeking associate’s degrees to participate in Great Expectations.
    • $1 million each year to boost the buying power of SNAP benefits to purchase fruits and vegetables at farmers markets and community retailers.

    We are proud to stand by the youth and young adults who advocated with us for these investments. And we will continue to speak up for policy changes designed to meet their needs.

    As one of our youth advocates said,

    “Mental health is the same thing as your physical health. It’s just as important, if not more important, so we really need to prioritize that and make it so that everybody has equal opportunities.”

    – (Aaliyana, 16 years old).

    While these initiatives will continue to create new opportunities for young children to grow and thrive, the foundation of their success is economic stability. The rate of children experiencing poverty has remained consistent for decades in Virginia with persistent racial disparities in the percentage of Black and Latino children living in poverty than their White peers. A solid foundation for child well-being rests on a solid financial foundation for their families.

    As a significant commitment to families, the General Assembly approved a partially refundable Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC):

    • Low-income working families who have a higher-than-average tax burden will see 15% of the value of their federal refund returned as a state tax credit.
    • In addition, this summer, taxpayers will receive one-time rebates of $250 for single families and $500 for married couples.

    The refundable EITC for families demonstrates that lawmakers can take necessary action to address long-standing challenges for families that were exacerbated by the pandemic. There will be more work to do to ensure that families receive economic support and stability that will address decades-long trends in child poverty and ever-increasing material hardship experienced by families across the state.

  3. Improving Family Economic Security Reduces Child Maltreatment

    Leave a Comment

    Guest Post by Jamia “Mia” Crockett, Chief Executive Officer of Families Forward Virginia

    Families Forward Virginia, in partnership with the Division of Family Services at Virginia Department of Social Services is observing National Child Abuse Prevention Month during April. This year, our advocacy is dedicated to “Growing a Better Tomorrow for All Children Together!”

    The biggest protective factors for facing adversity and building resilience are social supports and remaining connected to people. Unfortunately, as a system in Virginia, we have not been doing this work well for many years. State systems and community partners have often unintentionally worked in silos, leading to missed opportunities, broken safety nets and minimal collaboration across agencies.

    Strengthening family financial security is key to reduce child maltreatment and to enhance the relationships that help children thrive. When families face financial hardship, it sets the stage for more stress and less tuned-in interaction with children. Boosting family incomes through emergency direct payments, tax credits and paid family leave can relieve pressure and prevent childhood adversity from occurring. The General Assembly can give families with kids more support by making Virginia’s Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) refundable. Virginia’s current EITC is non-refundable, capping the amount of the credit available to families. A refundable EITC would help budget incomes for working families across the state.

    As a rule, parents want what’s best for their children. We also know that children don’t come with instruction manuals. Even in good times, parenting is one of the most challenging jobs. All parents need help learning how to raise and teach their children. It’s especially critical for parents who didn’t have good role models themselves, don’t have help from relatives, or can’t access programs such as home visiting where they learn skills and understand what behaviors and skills are appropriate for specific ages.

    Clearly, we’re not all experiencing this pandemic in the same way. Through our 50 affiliates across Virginia, we’re seeing children and families – who were already struggling – desperately seeking help, dealing with a lack of paid leave, stressing about rent, utilities, medicine, and food with underinsurance or no health insurance. This pandemic has also exposed weaknesses in the child welfare system, such as:

    • Youth aging out of the foster care system without a supportive family
    • Limited access to technology
    • Youth in foster care having insufficient time with parents
    • Lack of flexibility with federal funding
    • Limited access to basic needs, including food, housing, employment
    • Lack of modernization in the judicial system

    Families have the right to live in a world free from fear, violence, or discrimination. Children deserve to experience the whimsical nature of childhood and learn about unfettered opportunities available to them. Instead, some children, especially children of color, have to learn to always get a receipt after making a purchase, why they shouldn’t wear a hoodie, or why they should be wary of how they play in their own front yards.  As a Black mother of 13- and 11-year old sons, I am having to renegotiate what safety looks like. What safety looks like for my daughter, as little girls of color go missing daily with little or no attention.

    Every child is filled with tremendous promise, and we share an obligation to foster their potential. Children need a support system to face adversity and build resilience, but naming and accepting that fact is different from seeing that necessity in everyday life. Before interventions are needed, policymakers need to support families with training and resources that address children’s well-being. That’s why Families Forward Virginia has:

    • Expanded the number of Circle of Parents, a parent peer support program, locations from eight to 17, with multiple Circle groups at each.
    • Facilitated conversations with the Virginia Department of Corrections to develop, train and support Circle of Parents groups to engage with their children proactively and positively both during and after incarceration.
    • Renewed parent leadership engagement across the state because parents must be at the table, creating opportunities and resources for positive family development.
    • Expanded efforts to encourage and drive collaboration among our child abuse prevention affiliates.

    Systems aren’t set in stone. Policymakers created systems, and policymakers must change them to meet new needs and new research. Policies that strengthen family financial security are another key strategy to reduce childhood adversity and enhance the relationships that help children thrive. When families face financial hardship, it sets the stage for more stress and less tuned-in interaction with children.

    Boosting family incomes through emergency direct payments, tax credits and paid family leave can relieve pressure, helping to head off childhood adversity before it happens. We must stand together, continuing to gain allies and speak truth to those in power in the unending fight to foster the potential and promise of every single child in Virginia.

    Join us in taking action today and tell lawmakers to prioritize children and families as they continue state budget negotiations.

    Jamia Crockett is the Chief Executive Officer of Families Forward Virginia.

    Jamia became Families Forward Virginia’s CEO in February 2021, having earlier served on the Board of Directors as Treasurer. Most recently, Jamia worked at Mary Washington Healthcare. She previously worked in various health systems across both Virginia and North Carolina focused on Strategic Planning and Business Development with extensive experience in research and evaluation.

    Jamia has a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from William and Mary and a Master’s in Health Administration from VCU. Jamia is also an adjunct professor in executive leadership skills at Virginia Commonwealth University.

  4. Honoring a Voice for Children: Fletcher Lowe

    Leave a Comment
    [Pictured above: Fletcher and Mary Fran Lowe at the first Carol Fox event in 2017]
    The tribute below was written by Voices’ Chief Policy Officer, Emily Griffey. She knew Fletcher well and had the opportunity to work with him for many years.

    It is with deep sadness that we share the news of the passing of Fletcher Lowe, a Voices’ board member from 2013-2019. Fletcher was an advocate for social justice in all the ways that matter—he lived the principles, he led the principles and he passed them on to others. Fletcher’s influence on advocacy included being one of the founders of the Interfaith Center for Public Policy, a former executive director of that organization and involved sharing his time and talents with many other organizations.

    To Voices, he was a friendly face at the General Assembly, a connector to financial support and the originator of the question at each board meeting, “are there any red flags we should pay attention to?” To kids in Virginia, he was a champion dedicated to justice through policy change day in and day out. The RTD political columnist Jeff Schapiro memorialized Fletcher in a tribute column last Friday: “Those are the kind of nudges he could give people” and the current director of the VA Interfaith Center for Public Policy shared her thoughts on his impact, including the conversation they had the day before he passed away. In his obituary, Fletcher asked that in lieu of flowers, “you help someone in need, smile and thank God for your life and contribute to a meaningful organization,” (he included Voices on the list of 4 organizations).

    In his initial board worksheet in 2013, Fletcher said that he wanted to get involved with Voices because, in his words, “Voices is THE advocacy organization in Virginia that deals with children.  If you are concerned about any number of issues affecting children, you need to care about Voices.  Voices coalesces other groups.  It takes the lead on things that I think are critical.”

    Many will remember Fletcher for his keen questions in board meetings and his love of plaid pants, but to Voices staff, he was a crystal clear moral compass. Voices’ Policy and Programs Director Allison Gilbreath remarked, “he will have an express ticket to heaven.” I recall a wonderful happenstance of my son Andy being assigned to write notes to Westminster Canterbury residents at the start of the pandemic where he was randomly assigned Fletcher and Mary Fran, so I could continue to stay connected in an unexpected way to keep in him the loop after his board term ended. That was Fletcher. What you got from him was unexpected and crystal clear. In his passing, we can all look to him for his model of using his privilege, his voice and his beliefs to always advocate for what needs to be done.

  5. Share Your Story: Back to School

    Leave a Comment

    As children across Virginia head back to school, many families are feeling uncertain. Lawmakers have taken steps to expand access to child care, to increase food benefits and offer free school meals and to provide child tax credits. These supports are necessary and appreciated. At the same time, there are challenges that will make this year’s back to school transition difficult such as lack of paid leave, long waiting lists to enroll in child care programs and costly back to school purchases.

    We believe that lawmakers will help families and we know they have the ability to provide help. Right now Congress is considering the Build Back Better recovery plan that includes 12 weeks of paid family leave, additional funding for child care, extensions of the monthly child allowance and more. This is the opportunity to pass a comprehensive package to provide families and caregivers with the support you need. With so many things happening in the world at once, we need to bring the focus back to children and families. We need you to share your story.

    Complete this form to share your story.

    You have a couple of options…

    1. type up your story and submit or

    2. submit your name and we’ll follow up to interview you and record a story.

    We will connect with you to approve your story before it shared and let you know more about where and how it can be shared. We would like to collect as many stories as possible in the first two weeks of children going back to school. We appreciate your patience in reviewing your story and getting back to you.

    We can’t wait to hear from you.

  6. Intentional Recruitment of Clinicians of Color

    Leave a Comment

    This is a guest blog post written by Olivya Wilson, MSW, LCSW, the Parent Engagement Coordinator for Greater Richmond SCAN. This is part two of a two-part series. Read part one on the impact of having clinicians of color.

    We want to raise awareness about the importance of having mental health professionals of color and why children in particular need clinicians who present and reflect their same racial and ethnic experiences. This post focuses on the recruitment of clinicians of color, barriers to recruitment and how you can be an advocate.

    Intentional Recruitment of Clinicians of Color

    As mentioned in the first part of this series, there is a shortage of Black and Brown mental health providers and those that do exist can be difficult to access, especially depending on where you live. So, in addition to raising awareness about the need for more mental health professionals of color, we have to speak to why there is a shortage. One of the reasons is recruitment and retention. The mental health arena consists of many types of job settings and positions and for a long time, the field has not been intentional about recruiting Black and Brown people. While better efforts have been made with the help of increased conversations about diversity, inclusion and equity, we still have some ways to go to close the gap.

    Barriers to Recruiting and Retaining Mental Health Professionals of Color

    The Reach of Job Postings

    I have benefited from recruitment efforts that involved being personally referred for a job opening by an inside person. This is a common practice in the mental health field especially in the non-profit world. I don’t knock this kind of recruitment effort, however I do have a problem with it being providers’ primary or sole recruitment strategy especially if the organization or agency’s staff is predominately white and have little or no connections to other professionals of color. This will not help reach more clinicians of color. Intentional recruitment of clinicians of color requires diversifying the places/platforms where job opportunities are posted. Posting jobs in places that attract the same pool of applicants every time and then simply concluding that Black and Brown clinicians don’t apply for whatever biased reason is a barrier.

    Fair and Equitable Pay

    Traditionally, the mental health care field has been known to have low to average paying positions. Though we are beginning to see increases in pay, we still need to consider the equity implications for why White mental health clinicians generally would be more likely to accept a lower paying job than clinician of colors. Funding for Black and Brown mental health providers to start businesses of their own is also a barrier.

    Discrimination

    We cannot deny that workplace discrimination continues to occur and when it does, the discrimination is mostly based on race and sexual orientation, which is reflected in a 2017 Report from the Behavioral Health Workforce. This report highlights that discrimination against the client population also deters mental health clinicians of color from working with particular employers or is a factor that leads to them leaving their job.

     Call to Action

    What you can do? Mental health providers of color can connect with/join area chapters of organizations like the National Association of Black Social Workers, National Association of Black Psychologists, and National Association of Black Counselors. Membership benefits can include networking, educational opportunities, mentorship, greater access to job referrals/job postings, and other community resources, just to name a few. These associations often have directories and other resources that can help community members of color find Black and Brown mental health providers in their areas. Additionally, the aforementioned associations oftentimes have student chapters at various colleges and universities that allow students of color to get connected to strong professional networks which helps prepare them for the workforce post-graduation.

    We can create pipeline structures for future mental health professionals of color by increasing exposure about employment opportunities in the mental health field to Black and Brown youth as early as possible. Increased positive experiences between Black and Brown clients and mental health providers who reflect their ethnicity and cultural norms can lead to increased interest and desire for people of color to enter the field. White providers working toward intentional recruitment of clinicians of color can reach out to local Historically Black Colleges and Universities and connect with their Department of Field Education and Career Centers to share job/internship opportunities. Go to these places and participate in their job fairs, build relationships with the Schools of Psychology, Social Work, Counseling, etc.

    Last, but not least, keep addressing systemic racism and its impacts on Black and Brown people. Invest in more trainings for administrators and employees that address biases, structural racism and other barriers to achieving equity, inclusion and diversity in the workplace. Advocate for more equitable funders/funding sources so Black and Brown mental health providers don’t have to continue struggling to effectively meet the needs of their communities.

     

    Referenced Articles/Websites

    https://www.apa.org/monitor/2020/09/increasing-providers-color

    https://behavioralhealthworkforce.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/FA2P1_Workforce-Diversity_Final-Report.pdf

    https://www.healthline.com/health-news/access-to-mental-healthcare-is-harder-for-black-americans-heres-why

    https://safehavenspace.com/

  7. Meet Our Interns: Kelsey McMahon and Kaytee Wisley

    Leave a Comment
    Meet our two new interns, Kelsey McMahon and Kaytee Wisley. We’re so excited to have them join the Voices team this summer.

    Kelsey McMahon:

    Kelsey McMahon is an intern for the Data and Research Program at Voices for Virginia’s Children. She has recently completed her Masters in Sociology from Virginia Tech and also graduated from Virginia Tech with two undergraduate degrees in Sociology and Criminology. Her thesis was on whether a college education requirement and/or community policing training at police departments could reduce police use of force. Kelsey has an extensive background in quantitative research and data collection to inform different areas of public policy, including but not limited to: juvenile justice, drug-impaired driving, alcohol-related crimes, and racial and ethnic health disparities. Her goals for this internship are to get well-acquainted with the inner workings of nonprofits, to learn skills to amplify and empower historically marginalized communities, and to collaborate with a wide variety of people to gain an understanding of policy issues and the best ways to address them.

    Kaytee Wisley:

    Kaytee Wisley is an intern for the Policy Department at Voices for Virginia’s Children. She is currently working on her Master of Public Policy at the Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy at the University of Virginia. She recently graduated from Fort Hays State University with a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science. Kaytee has previously interned with the Kansas Legislature and the American Civil Liberties Union. She has experience conducting policy research and doing advocacy work. Her goals for this internship are to learn more about Virginia state politics, to gain a better understanding of the various policy areas that contribute to childhood development, and to collaborate with the Voices team to create equitable policy solutions.

     

    Stay tuned for more on Kaytee and Kelsey’s work at Voices and check out blog posts they’ve written below:

    Learn more about the work Kelsey is doing by checking out the KIDS COUNT Data Center. 

    Learn more about Kaytee’s work in our policy center.

  8. The Impact of Having Clinicians of Color

    Leave a Comment

    This is a guest blog post written by Olivya Wilson, MSW, LCSW, the Parent Engagement Coordinator for Greater Richmond SCAN. This is part one on the impact of having clinicians of color.

    We want to raise awareness about the importance of having mental health professionals of color and why children in particular need clinicians who present and reflect their same racial and ethnic experiences.

    Tamika’s Story

    I want to do this by first introducing you to Tamika. Tamika is a Black/African American mother of four. She has three boys and one girl. Her oldest son was diagnosed with Autism as a child, something she knew nothing about as a new mom several years ago. This diagnosis led her on a winding path of trying to learn all she could about the diagnosis and how to find the right kind of resources and supports for her son. She fought many battles trying to advocate for her son’s needs. He was completely non-verbal at the onset of his diagnosis and struggled with aggressive behaviors, among other challenges. Additionally, he was in a school system with personnel that didn’t know how to appropriately respond to his needs, especially with him being a tall Black adolescent and later, a teenage boy with Autism.

    When her son began receiving intensive in-home counseling services, she requested a Black male counselor, but for the first three to four years, her son was assigned mostly White female counselors. He received a Black female counselor once, but shortly after was switched back to a White female counselor. Tamika persisted with this request until her son was finally assigned a Black male counselor, who she said has made all the difference in her son’s progress.

    If you asked Tamika, she would tell you that the reason it took so long to get a Black counselor for her son is because there aren’t enough Black mental health providers to meet the ever-growing need and demand. Black male mental health providers are even more scarce. Tamika shared her story with me and continues to share it every opportunity she gets about why it was so important for her to find a Black male counselor for her son. She went to these lengths because she knew it was important for her Black son to be connected with someone who looked like him and who could identify with him and relate to him in a real way. She wanted someone for him who shared similar, or even the same, ethnic and cultural values.

    Why Children of Color Need Clinicians of Color

    I’m always reminded of Tamika’s story whenever I engage in conversation about the need for more Black and Brown mental health professionals. Her story is just one of many that helps convey why having clinicians of color is so important. When we consider the needs of children of color, we must consider their unique backgrounds and experiences as well. We have to take into account what it means for them to have mental health professionals that represent and reflect their identities, as well as have spaces to share and process their experiences without the added stress of having to explain themselves or feeling fearful of being misunderstood, judged, invalidated, or further marginalized by their therapists.

    In season 4 of the award-winning drama series This Is Us, Randall Pearson, played by Sterling K. Brown, finally acquiesces to seeking therapy for his past traumas and history of mental health challenges. He begins working with a White female therapist, who Randall appears to develop a positive rapport with and who seems to help with his first breakthrough. However, with COVID-19, the resurgence of violence against Black people, increased racial and political tensions happening, he comes to realize he needs to find a therapist that could help him show up more authentically in a therapeutic space and he finds that with a Black male therapist.

    When I think about the mental health of children of color, I think about how the history of racism and systems of oppression are in many ways connected to their presenting circumstances. Just like we advocate for more representation of Black and Brown people in other professional arenas such as the medical field, politics, mass media and sports that have been dominated and run by White people and white supremacist systems for so long, the advocacy is desperately needed in the mental health field as well.

    According to the American Psychological Association’s Center for Workforce Studies, 86% of psychologists are white, and other mental health professions are similarly homogeneous. Already at a disadvantage owing to structural disparities, people from underrepresented communities are often unable to find providers who look like them or share their cultural experiences. (Source: https://www.apa.org/monitor/2020/09/increasing-providers-color)

    Raising awareness about the racial-ethnic disparities in the mental health field doesn’t dismiss or deny the ability of some White mental health professionals to work with Black and Brown children and their families. However, it does remind us how neglectful the mental health field has been to Black and Brown individuals and communities. For me, not acknowledging the importance of having and needing more mental health clinicians of color keeps us at risk, whether consciously or unconsciously, of perpetuating the “White Savior” complex.

    From Sachs to Kristof to Invisible Children to TED, the fastest growth industry in the US is the White Savior Industrial Complex. This world exists simply to satisfy the needs—including, importantly, the sentimental needs—of white people… The White Savior Industrial Complex is not about justice. It is about having a big emotional experience that validates privilege,” according to a piece in The Atlantictitled “The White Savior Industrial Complex”. (Source: https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2012/03/the-white-savior-industrial-complex/254843/)

    I’ve come to recognize more than ever that Black, Indigenous, Latino and Asian people, especially our children, need to see more people like themselves participating in the healing process. Attending cultural competency or cultural sensitivity trainings are helpful and necessary, but it’s not enough. We must start to recognize how important the lived experiences of Brown and Black mental health professionals are to the practice. In these Trauma Basics or Intro to Trauma Informed Care trainings, we learn that trauma doesn’t discriminate, it has no respect of person, it crosses color lines, class, socioeconomic lines, etc. This is true, trauma can and has impacted all kinds of peoples and communities. I’ve also learned in my Urban Trauma training courses that there is a history of trauma, cultural biases, mistrust, and stigmas that are unique to Black and Brown people that White clinicians will never truly be able to understand, with regards to the importance and relevance of these experiences to their identities.

    Egette Indelele is the founder and CEO of Safe Haven Space and a recent graduate of George Mason University. Egette and her family were refugees from Tanzania some years ago. Her experience of being a refugee and realizing the impacts of that experience on her and her family’s mental health, along with understanding the cultural stigmas around mental health led her to founding Safe Haven Space. They offer mental health and well-being programs to refugee and immigrant students and their families, helping them to succeed in American life and culture through programs in schools and community organizations. This delivery of services most likely wouldn’t have the same impact if someone without the experiences of being a refugee or immigrant was leading this work.

    Learn more about Safe Haven Space.

    These are just a few examples and reasons of why we encourage more Black and Brown providers to work in mental health and why children in particular need clinicians who represent and reflect that same racial and ethnic or cultural experiences.

    In part two of Olivya’s guest blog post, she’ll be discussing the recruitment of clinicians of color, including barriers, retainment, and how you can help.

  9. How Virginia’s Children are Faring One Year into the Pandemic

    Leave a Comment

    To the Voices’ family,

    March 11, 2021 marked the one-year anniversary of the day in which the world changed for everyone. In very short order, the World Health Organization declared a pandemic, professional sports teams ended their seasons, schools closed, and “work” presented a host of new challenges for us all. What some believed might be an inconvenience for a few weeks proved to be the challenge of a lifetime. 

    We wondered how to best stay safe and what to do about childcare. Would our jobs and businesses survive, and how were we going to pay for food and housing? As the weeks turned into months, our concerns only grew. Were our children falling behind in school; were those of us who survived COVID-19 going to have lifelong illness? How was anyone, especially children and older adults, going to deal with long-term isolation? 

    The more we learned about infection rates, hospitalizations, and deaths, the more something else became clear. This pandemic – which was taking a huge human and economic toll – was doing so disproportionately in communities of color. The last 12 months with COVID-19 has pushed us in many ways, broken us in some, and highlighted the appalling lack of equity in our society. 

    For Virginia’s children, their race, zip code and family income determine their life expectancy and ability to succeed. Lest we are tempted to think that this is hyperbole, the data from our KIDS COUNT Data Center confirms the impact of COVID-19 on families of color.  

    • The economic security for families has weakened; especially for Black and Latino families. Since the start of the pandemic, nearly half (49%) of all adults with children in the household lost employment income. While unemployment has soared across all race and ethnic groups, this percentage has been significantly greater for Black and Hispanic families.
    • More families are going hungry. Prior to the pandemic, one in 10 families reported sometimes or often not having enough food to eat. These numbers have increased during the pandemic to 14% and are significantly higher for Black (24%) and Hispanic (32%) families.
    • Without policy interventions we will see a spike in housing insecurity. Virginia’s eviction moratorium has allowed for our families to keep pace with the national average (21%) when it comes to paying rent or mortgage on time. However, 25% of Black families expressed no confidence in making these payments on time.
    • Black and Latino people are hospitalized at a greater rate for COVID-19. As of March 17, the Virginia Department of Health reported 19,982 hospitalizations from COVID-19. The Black community accounts for about 27% of that group, although they only represent just 20% of the commonwealth’s population. Likewise, the Latino population makes up roughly 17% of Virginia’s COVID-19 hospitalizations, but only 10% of the population.
    • As of March 16, of Virginians that have received at least one dose of the vaccine, 8,843 per 100,000 are Black people and 7,835 per 100,000 are Hispanic people, compared to 14,405 per 100,000 that are White people.

    The stress of trying to pay bills, eat, maintain housing and balance child care has also led to an increase in depression and anxiety in adults. These familial stressors are also felt by children and can impact their development, introducing new levels of trauma and instability. 

    This year has been hard in so many ways. We must acknowledge the generosity, kindness of bravery that were on display daily in ways big and small. Individuals, families, and communities proved to be creative, adaptable, and resilient. I certainly saw all of these qualities in the staff and work at Voices and it was to the benefit of Virginia’s children and their families. 

    Because of your support, Voices was able to continue our work in championing policies and safety net programs to protect our children. More than $257 million was allocated in state and federal funds for new initiatives for children and families. Our legislative victories include:

    • A significantly transformed foster care;
    • Enhanced Virginia Preschool Initiatives
    • An emphasis placed on equitable education for disadvantaged school districts;
    • Support to address financial hardships for families;
    • Virginia becoming the first state in the South to declare racism a public health crisis;
    • Established new methods to stabilize childcare and make it affordable; and
    • Dismantling systems of oppression, increasing access to health insurance and removing barriers to receive public assistance.

    Yes, this past year was hard, and we are not out of the woods yet. But we do have reason to hope, and we at Voices will continue to advocate for programs, policies and systemic changes that promote health, wellbeing, and equity for all of Virginia’s children and their families. 

    Sincerely yours,

    Amy Strite, CEO of Voices for Virginia’s Children

    *This blog was updated on April 28th, 2021.*

  10. Our Statement on the Events of January 6, 2021

    Leave a Comment

    As we watched the events unfold on Wednesday, January 6 at the United States Capitol, we found ourselves once again awash with a host of feelings and emotions — horror, revulsion, fear, anger, heartbreak, confusion, rage, and so many more.

    Let’s make it plain, what we witnessed was white supremacy on full display. The impact is racial trauma – the mental and emotional injury caused by encounters with racial bias and ethnic discrimination, racism, and hate crimes. An individual who experiences an emotionally painful, sudden, and uncontrollable racist encounter is at risk of suffering from a race-based traumatic stress. In the U.S., we recognize that Black, Indigenous People of Color (BIPOC) are most vulnerable due to living under a system of white supremacy.

    This includes our children.

    Voices for Virginia’s Children is deeply committed to working diligently by advocating for all of Virginia’s children always, but even more so during these deeply disturbing and uncertain days.   We know that young people already carry the burdens and bear the scars of violence and injustice. We see the horrific price they pay due to systemic racism and lack of equity in our society. We hear the fear and frustration in their parent’s voices as they both hope for a better life for their children but lack the evidence that it may even possibly be so.  Prior to 2020, almost one in five children experienced at least two traumatic experiences in childhood. After the challenges that came with COVID-19 and the escalated instances of racial and social injustices, we can only imagine what these numbers will look like in the coming years.

    We want a better society and life for all children.  We do not want each ensuing generation encumbered by the trauma of the past, nor injured by their own traumatic experiences. It does not have to be this way. We can do better. We must do better.   For the children, for their families, for our shared community, we all have an obligation to do everything we can to help bring about change on a personal and a systemic level.

    What’s needed is a change in our policies, a change in where we make investments and a system-wide overhaul that will finally provide an equal opportunity for children of color, children from economically disadvantaged backgrounds, and immigrant children to have the same opportunities as their white counterparts and more affluent peers.

    We can start by supporting Delegate Aird’s resolution to declare racism as a public health crisis which outlines steps Virginia can take to address systemic racism.

    Yes, this is hard work. But it’s necessary. We owe it to ourselves, to our communities, and most of all, our children and youth.

    For more resources….