Camden, NJ, teens, young people suffer under heavy load of trauma’s Kevin Shelly did an outstanding story about the effects of trauma and

 Quamir Houston talks about  the death of his sister Quanyrah, 16.
Quamir Houston talks about the death of his sister Quanyrah, 16.

violence on one of the nation’s poorest communities, Camden, NJ. It was accompanied by  a heart-wrenching video. From the story:

Repeated exposure to trauma in the poorest city in America carries very real and lasting health risks that span generations, according to medical experts.

Experts say communities can either support — or impede — the healing process from such trauma, depending on how they respond.

One way is to use a trauma-focused approach to individuals and the city as a whole, acknowledging the issue and publicly discussing what the consequences are. A good start, according to Dr. Vincent J. Felitti, would be to use a questionnaire developed through the Adverse Childhood Experience study, which is run by the federal government and Kaiser Permanente, an insurance company with medical services integrated into its offerings. Felitti pioneered the ACE study.

Father Jeff Putthoff, a founder of STOP, which stands for Stop Trauma on People, believes that needs to be a part of the discussion in the city.

Putthoff and STOP say the city’s leaders are treating trauma only as a public safety issue while overlooking the social, economic and public health aspects. STOP placed a field of crosses on the plaza in front of City Hall last year, symbolizing each of the 67 homicide victims in a city whose population is just about 77,000.

Kudos to Shelly and his editors, and more if they will also begin covering violence as a public health issue instead of reporting on crime the way that news organizations have for the last 120 years.

Instead of covering mostly high-profile murders, a public health approach to crime reporting focuses on the violence that, in most communities, lies at the root of most economic, emotional and long-term damage: family violence and the short- and long-term effects on children who get caught in the middle.

This approach also embeds every story in a solution-oriented matrix. That doesn’t mean that jurnos will be offering fixes; it means that we provide the community enough information on a regular ongoing basis so that its members can make informed decisions about the next steps to take to make things better.

Cops and courts become parts of a much larger aggregation of people and organizations that have a hand in reducing violence and trauma: hospitals, schools, the business community (for jobs), emergency rooms, health clinics, physicians, social workers, public health departments, juvenile justice systems, welfare department, alcohol outlet regulators, city council members, mayors, shelters, crisis care nurseries, etc. 

For example, Atul Gawande did a story for The New Yorker about Dr. Jeffrey Brenner, who’s developed a way to work with the sickest people in Camden and help improve their health and lives while reducing their health care costs. (Gawande also did an accompanying FRONTLINE documentary.) These are people who comprise most of the revolving-door visits to emergency rooms and hospitals, and who probably have high ACE scores. As an introduction to a webinar that Brenner did on says, “His philosophy centers around providing care and caring, just like your mother would offer it, he says.”

Including Brenner’s work as part of the new approach to covering violence and trauma as a public health issue, as Shelly did in his story, is critical to showing not only what the long-term consequences of adverse childhood experiences mean to individuals and our health-care system, but also to show how  trauma-informed practices can make a difference in people’s lives, emotionally and economically. In other words, that there are solutions to some of our most intractable problems.

Update 1/17: Kevin Shelly’s stories helped generate more interest in convening a trauma summit in Camden. For more information: Groups make case for trauma summit in Camden.


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