It is an unfortunate truth in this country that we must have difficult and scary conversations that follow acts of violence, including school shootings. These events stir up confusion, fear, and unease for ourselves as caregivers or parents who are witnessing our worst nightmare, and also alarm the young people in our lives. It is during these difficult moments that children and youth look to trusted adults to understand how to react, cope and how to trust the world around them again. As you embark on these challenging conversations, consider the guidance below:
Name emotions together. Anxiety. Hypervigilance. Name the things that are coming up and be open about what comes up for you as a parent/caregiver. Sharing like this demonstrates that a) emotions are acceptable and b) gives them an opportunity to model their coping styles after you. Reserve processing more intense emotions with other supportive adults. While it is good to be open about emotions, you do not want children to think they must care for you too, or that they are somehow at fault. Phrases like, “I’m upset about what I saw, it’s not you,” can also help ease heightened and worried young minds.
Consider what is developmentally appropriate. You are the expert in your child. For any child or youth, approaching the conversation with curiosity and playfulness will be most helpful, but there are some things to keep in mind depending on age.
Remember that younger children (up to Elementary School age) tend to think in more linear, concrete terms, so keeping things simple, clear and concise will be important in addressing their anxious behaviors. Accept and hold the full range of their emotions. Phrases like, “A scary thing happened here, and grown-ups are working hard to try to fix it and keep everyone safe.”
Older children (Middle to High school) are keenly aware of when they are being condescended to and already have access to so much information on their own. Begin by being curious about what they already know. Anchor your conversation in facts. Invite a check-in later, if needed. “This scary thing happened and it’s making me think about safety. We can talk whenever you’re ready.”
Reassure safety. School is supposed to be a safe place. Help the young people you are connecting with understand that school is still a safe place to learn and connect with friends and trusted adults. You can approach this practically by helping to identify the things that keep them safe day-to-day, like talking to trusted adults when they are feeling afraid or unsure. Reiterate their safety by reminding them that you are always there for them and that authorities are investigating. “It’s okay to feel scared, but know that your teacher(s) works with me and other helpers to keep you safe.”
Keep the news and any violent or potentially triggering media away. If you as an adult are eager for the information, practice discretion, or try distracting your child to shift their focus. For older youth, filter the news for optimal times of day (avoiding close to bedtime) and/or watch together. Consider youth-centered news resources as well, such as Xzya: News for Kids.
Maintain routines. Keep it as “normal” a day as possible. Regular schedules are reassuring and can reduce anxiety. Ensure plenty of sleep, regular meals, and movement. Encourage academics and extracurriculars, but if your child is overwhelmed, take those cues and suggest a more emotionally accessible activity to do.
Navigating these conversations is not an exact science. You and the child you are supporting may have different needs depending on aspects like age, race and ethnicity, where you live, and the resources available to you for support. Let these talking points and recommendations guide you, but recognize when to ask for help.
As the world faced stay-at-home orders in March 2020, communities across the country witnessed expanded attention that was called to what is essentially dual pandemics, the COVID-19 pandemic and racism as a public health crisis. Inequities that contribute to the social determinants of health were already present, but the pandemic further widened disparities that continue to contribute to poor social and health outcomes in marginalized communities.
While great awareness has been raised around trauma-informed policy and practice over the past few years, we must acknowledge that this approach is incomplete. Today, communities across the state are raising their voices on behalf of much needed acknowledgment of the systemic inequities that perpetuate toxic systems and policy, and practices that reinforce the root cause of trauma and cause harm.Equality gives everyone the same exact resources. Equity acknowledges the disparities affiliated with oppression and inequality and, therefore, distributes resources based off of the needs of the recipients so that everyone can achieve their full potential in life regardless of race, ethnicity or the community in which they live.
While the COVID-19 pandemic presents economic challenges, Virginia is poised to reconcile hundreds of years of exacerbated inequities in order to correct the disparities that are further heightened today. Our talking points for the 2021 legislative session will focus on these themes:
Create systemic interventions that address the root cause of trauma.
Ensure Virginia’s public entities prioritize the needs of children.
Connect parents to supports that foster resiliency and positive health outcomes.
Ease the impact of trauma and victimization that children and families experience.
Promote financial stability and resilience for families through community-level supports.
Address unintended consequences and biases that can lead to additional trauma for children
Creating Systemic Interventions for Trauma
According to a 2019 Pew Research survey, roughly eight in ten people who identify as Black with some college experience (81 percent) reported that they have experienced some form of racial discrimination from time to time with 17 percent reporting that this happens to them regularly. The American Public Health Association defines racism as a social system with multiple complex dimensions, including internalized or interpersonal individual racism, institutional or structural systemic racism, which unfairly disadvantages some individuals and communities and unfairly advantages other individuals and communities. It ultimately decreases the strength of our whole society through investments that do not address the root cause of trauma, which further contributes to multi-disciplinary disparities.
Racism As A Public Health Crisis:Delegate Aird introduced a resolution during special session to declare racism as a public health crisis. It included numerous steps that Virginia can take to address systemic racism and its impact on public health, including the examination of racial inequity in Virginia law, implicit bias training for public employees and officials, a glossary of terms specific to racism and health equity and engagement with communities most impacted.
Prioritizing The Needs Of Children
A prolonged activation of an individual’s stress response system in the body and brain without buffering can cause toxic stress to a child’s brain, which can disrupt the immune system, the ability to learn, and even the way DNA is read and transcribed. This is referred to as trauma. In addition, racial trauma refers to the ongoing impact of racism, racist bias, and the exposure to racist abuse. This can impact a person’s ability to develop authentic relationships, feel safe, and even live a long and healthy life.
According to the KIDS COUNT Data Center’s indicators, which include socioeconomic hardship, family violence, neighborhood violence and racist bias, 19 percent of Virginia’s children experience two or more adverse childhood experiences (ACEs). However, in 2017 to 2018, 37 percent of Black children experienced two or more ACEs, which is almost double the rate of trauma that all children experienced. ACEs can contribute to toxic stress in the brain, which is known as trauma. According to the CDC-Kaiser Permanent Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study, trauma is connected to long-term negative physical, social and emotional health outcomes.
Governor’s Children’s Cabinet: The Governor’s Children’s Cabinet, which is chaired by First Lady Pamela Northam has made great strides in promoting wraparound services that children need, including food insecurity, trauma-informed systems and school readiness. Virginia should make the Governor’s Children’s Cabinet permanent and create a position for a Chief Advisor in order to continue this momentum in ensuring children and families have access to the services they need to thrive.
Connecting Parents To Supports
In 2019, Virginia Mercury reported that Black women in Virginia were three times more likely to die after giving birth than a white women, a disparity that Governor Northam made a goal to eliminate by 2025. Home visiting is a voluntary, evidence-based program that supports low-income pregnant women and parents of children birth age to five to access the resources needed to raise children who are healthy and ready to learn. Governor Northam’s 2021 budget proposal includes $2.4 million to increase access to doula care for pregnant women, which also reduces racial disparities in maternal health. What the COVID-19 pandemic has proven is that racial and ethnic disparities already contribute to poor health outcomes. Investing in these supports is a step in the right direction to shorten that gap.
Foster Positive Health Outcomes: Virginia is poised to support the Governor’s budget proposal to increase access to doula care for pregnant women through Medicaid. In addition, Virginia can take additional steps to liaise the gap in maternal and infant health disparities by fostering familial resiliency through Medicaid reimbursement for home visiting services.
Easing The Impact of Trauma And Victimization
The Virginia Heals goal is to bring healthcare, child welfare, justice and other systems together to coordinate and align efforts to ensure a timely and seamless response to young victims, their families, and caregivers regardless of the system that they may engage with or enter. The program offers a number of services, including resource mapping, screening for trauma, referral and response, agency assessments, family engagement, grant development and more, including COVID-19 interventions.
The Governor’s budget proposal includes $517,553 in FY22 to provide general fund support to the Virginia Helping Everyone Access Services (HEALS) program.
Support Early Identification and Intervention: We know that our communities and public entities are facing challenges in adjusting to the hardships of the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, more than ever, our systems of care should be cohesive and easy to navigate for those who need them. Virginia can adopt and support early identification and intervention as it relates to easing the trauma and victimization that community members may experience.
Promoting Financial Stability And Family Resilience
The Family and Children’s Trust (FACT) Fund is the only public/private entity that addresses trauma across a lifespan and the only organization that provides funding to Virginia’s 27 trauma-informed community networks across the state. These are multi-disciplinary networks that convene professionals in order to develop community-level trauma-informed approaches to services and best practices. Trauma is caused by an acute event or a combination of events. Virginia’s history includes historical, cultural, and intergenerational trauma that is passed down through generations, including the arrival of the first enslaved Africans to Old Point Comfort, now Ft. Monroe in Hampton, Virginia.
Today, communities face compound trauma in the wake of the pandemic as a trauma, economic trauma and more. Epigenetics is the study of how one’s behavior and environment can cause changes that affect the way their genes work, which can further impact a child’s stress response system and contribute to challenges, such as anxiety and stress. However, a loving, healthy and safe environment can promote intervention. Community networks have played an imperative role in fostering family economic security through COVID-19 interventions, including educational programming to foster community resilience, in addition to facilitating referral and response programs to help families meet their basic needs through emergency grant funds and services.
Fund Community Partnerships:While funding for community-based networks occurred during the 2020 General Assembly through approval for five communities to decide to allow casinos through a voter referendum, this funding will not be seen immediately and instead in about four to five years. However, Virginia is poised to promote the urgent financial stability communities need nowthroughinvestments in FACT funding for community partnerships, which will include technical assistance to community networks and funding for COVID-19 interventions through referral and response resources to combat economic challenges and break cycles of intergenerational trauma.
Address Unintentional Consequences And Biasess
In 2019, when accounting for the population of children that were chronically absent from school in the 4th grade, of that population 9 percent are Asian and Pacific Islander, 30 percent are Black, 31 percent are Hispanic or Latinx, 23 percent are Non-Hispanic white, and 28 percent are two or more races. Several factors contribute to chronic absenteeism, including chronic illness, poor transportation, a lack of access to mental health services, involvement in juvenile justice systems, negative school experiences, a lack of engagement and misconceptions that absences are only a problem if they are unexcused. Contributing to community-level prevention and wraparound resources that increase family engagement will contribute to an authentic solution rather than punitive policy and zero tolerance interventions.
Address unintentional biases that can lead to additional trauma for children: As our systems seek solutions to liaise disruptions in educational settings that lead to chronic absenteeism, such as housing and other supports, we must ensure these interventions do not inadvertently widen cultural, racial and ethnic disparities. We need to ensure policy responses do not contribute to unintended consequences, such as the school-to-prison pipeline.
Amidst a global pandemic, many Virginians are facing budgetary challenges that end up high on the list of concerns. What was previously a conversation about “how much?” has become a question of “can we even afford it?”. With numerous budget amendments on the table for state legislators, we must prioritize the care and concern of our children and families through support increasing funding for the Family and Children’s Trust Fund (FACT). Introduced by Delegate Carr, the proposed amendment provides for an additional $2.5 million in funding per year for the next two years for FACT.
We know that prevention is important for supporting children’s well-being, not only through parental support and education but also through connecting families to supports for basic needs. We also know the prevention work that builds stronger communities requires funding. Now is the opportunity for legislators to show their support of children, families, and all Virginia communities by supporting this budget amendment.
Why fund FACT?
As a fund supporting trauma-informed community networks (TICNs) and prevention efforts, FACT is key to providing the resources our communities need to improve child and family welfare. Even as supportive as current efforts may be, there are always opportunities for greater impact. With this additional funding, FACT could support more TICNs and prevention programs which are essential to creating better outcomes for children through stronger communities. Programs that ensure our communities can voice what they need most to thrive. This budget amendment also specifies that these programs should be tailored to meet the needs of communities of color, who are currently over represented in the child welfare system.
By listening to the community and learning about their needs, we can provide the kind of prevention support that is most impactful. One nationally acclaimed prevention program, Parents as Teachers, works with parents to understand their specific needs and personalize the assistance provided. In one success story, a family found themselves having to choose between obtaining healthcare assistance for the father or maintaining food and shelter. Thanks to the help of the program, they were able to obtain the low-cost healthcare they needed and the parent in need now enjoys more time spent with his kids.
Courtney Reece is a current MSW student at Virginia Commonwealth University. She is a graduate of Queens University of Charlotte with a Bachelor of Arts in Music. Courtney began her social work career through volunteer efforts with the Richmond YWCA and Kindred Hospice and most recently interned with the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance. She is passionate about influencing policy change and looking to policy and prevention efforts that can disrupt systemic inequity.
The 2020 GA Session has made progress towards making Virginia a more trauma-informed state. Thanks to all of our partners who helped create and advocate for the Campaign’s Unified Policy Agenda. Now that we have reached the halfway point of session where bills have crossed over and the House and Senate have each released their versions of the budget, we are pleased with where our priorities stand. However there is more work to do to get these items across the finish line.
It is really hard to get elected officials to pay attention to “prevention” because they so often need to deliver immediate results. Our efforts to address community-level prevention fell short of where we wanted, but still put us on a path towards progress.
FACT funding for community networks: The Senate included an additional $100,000 each year for FACT grants while the House has dedicated revenue to FACT from a small portion of the revenue from authorizing casinos in five communities. Neither of these proposals will get to the desired level of funding for additional community networks.
ACEs Interface training: The Senate included reduced funding for ACEs Interface training of $285,250 per year. The House did not include funding.
Five-year child abuse prevention plan: The House included language directing the Commissioner of Social Services to develop a comprehensive and collaborative plan to prevent exposure to trauma and abuse and neglect.
Both the House and Senate reduced the Governor’s proposed funding for prevention services through local DSS to around $40 million in general funds across the two years of the budget from a proposed $66 million.
Improve maternal health policies: Both the House and the Senate included the Governor’s proposals to extend health insurance to low-income mothers and some residents born outside the US. They also included language to study a Medicaid benefit for care by doulas and midwives but have slightly different timelines for next steps.
Expand access to home visiting: Both the House and Senate included the Governor’s proposals to expand access to home visiting through Medicaid reimbursement. The Senate version reduces the first year allocation that is unnecessary before the state seeks the appropriate state plan amendment.
Promote economic stability: As a significant improvement over the introduced budget increasing TANF payments by 5 percent, both the House and the Senate increased TANF payments, The Senate proposal is slightly stronger increasing cash assistance and eligibility levels by 20 percent. This would allow more families to be eligible for cash assistance and would increase monthly payment amounts by approximately $75 per month for two beneficiaries.
Virginia Mental Health Access Program (VMAP): Both the House and Senate included the Governor’s proposal ($4.2 million) to bring the collaboration between primary health care and mental health to scale statewide.
School counselors: Both the House and Senate reduced the Governor’s budget proposal of $99 million to reduce the average school counselor ratio to 1 to every 250 students. While the House only adopted half of the Governor’s proposal, the Senate included about $60 million to fund one school counselor for every 300 students.
Scale-Up Evidence-Based Practices
Training to adopt evidence-based practices: Both the House and the Senate include amendments to swap funding for evidence-based services for Family First for newly available federal funds. Total funding is not impacted. However the Senate budget reduces proposed positions to provide training in the evidence-based services at DBHDS.
Workforce Recruitment and Retention
Child welfare caseworkers: Both the House and Senate included raises for state-employees and state-supported local employees that were not included in the Governor’s budget. These increases will impact child welfare caseworkers in addition to specific funding for local DSS employees to increase minimum salary levels and address salary compression.
Medicaid reimbursement for mental health providers: Both budgets include the Governor’s proposal to increase Medicaid reimbursement rates for mental health providers.
Behavioral health loan repayment: The Senate budget includes $1.6 million each year to offset student loans for mental health clinicians working at Community Services Boards (CSB).
Currently, Virginia School Resource Officers (SROs) are not required to receive training in working with children and youth. We expect nearly anyone working daily with children to receive training on child development and appropriate interactions with children, why would Virginia not require the same of SROs?
After the Parkland shooting, Virginia lawmakers turned attention to what students felt they needed to be safe in school. Students who spoke up on panels and attended meetings mentioned improving their interactions with SROs as something they needed to feel safe in school. SROs needed to begin their interactions from the perspective of “what’s happened to you?”, not “what’s wrong with you?”. SRO’s needed to be trauma-informed.
The leaders and participants of Trauma-informed Community Networks across the state agreed with students based on what they saw in their communities and raised the issue of requiring more appropriate training for School Resource Officers. The more than 40 organizations signing on to the Unified Policy Agenda for the Campaign for a Trauma-Informed Virginia all agreed that this initiative was a priority.
Now your support is needed to encourage our Delegates and Senators to vote in support of required training for School Resource Officers.
Support SB1130 (Locke). This is the only bill related to SROs that requires training for the safety officers in child-specific topics. As of 1.31.19 it had passed the Education and Health Committee and was referred to the Senate Fiance Committee.
While Delegate Bourne’s died in a House Courts of Justice subcommittee, a similar bill, HB2609 (Jay Jones) requiring training for School Resource Officers, although not specifying what topics the training would cover, passed the House Education committee and is under consideration of the full House of Delegates.