Perspectives on building healthy communities

National Policy Implications Panel

 (l to r) Dr. Garth Graham, president, Aetna Foundation; Wendy Ellis, project director, Building Community Resilience Collaborative, GWU; Stuart M. Butler, The Brookings Institution

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After decades of working at the national level on health and mental policy in Washington, DC, I find myself looking for ways to get involved locally—the closer to home the better, and the more tangible the work, the more gratifying. There has never been a better time to act locally, not just because of the polarized national scene, but because opportunities abound to really make a difference at the local level.

With this budding interest local involvement taking shape, I was eager see what lessons I could learn from a May 9th event titled “New directions for communities: How they can boost neighborhood health,” sponsored by the venerable organization The Brookings Institution, best known for leadership at the national and global levels.

Brookings has developed a series titled “Building Healthy Neighborhoods” that is exploring “the crucial elements to building a culture of health, education, and economic mobility in low-income communities.” Since my neighborhood has people of all income levels and has undergone rapid gentrification especially in the last decade, its diversity is a source of its vitality but also presents challenges in creating community. A number of the reports in the series provide ideas and strategies for addressing problems at the neighborhood level.

What I didn’t expect to hear at the Brookings meeting was the degree of interest by several of the presenters in the role that “villages” could play in improving community health. Villages are springing up around the country to help people “age in place” by addressing the multiple needs of seniors. Village members are both lending and receiving help.

Members of Mt. Pleasant Village

Volunteers in the Mt. Pleasant Village meet to discuss the village’s participation in a study on social inclusion among its members. Pictured here (l to r) are Bonnie Cain, Kelly Callahan, Katie Tyler, Sharon Hart

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States produce a bumper crop of ACEs bills in 2017—nearly 40 bills in 18 states

NCSLA scan done in March by the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), through StateNet, of bills introduced in 2017 that specifically include adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) in the text produced a surprising number of bills — close to 40 — in a 18 states. A scan done a year ago produced less than a handful. NCSL is a bipartisan organization that serves state legislators and their staffs.

The shear volume of bills in so many states represents a promising trend—a growing interest by state policymakers in ACEs science. Most of the bills are still pending in state legislatures. A Utah resolution to promote ACEs science in state policy was signed by the state’s governor and a Virginia resolution that mentions ACEs in trauma-informed community networks was passed by the legislature. New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez vetoed a bill to include ACEs science in that state’s Medicaid Family Home Visiting program.

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Comprehensive legislation introduced in U.S. Senate and House to address trauma

Sen. Heitkamp, Sen. Durbin, Christinia Bethel & Joe Barnhart (Left to right)

Senators Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) and Dick Durbin (D-IL) at the Dec. 1, 2016 congressional briefing on addressing childhood trauma

The “Trauma-Informed Care for Children and Families Act” (S. 774H.R. 1757) was introduced on March 29 in the Senate by Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) with co-sponsors Dick Durbin (D-IL), Al Franken (D-MN), and Cory Booker (D-NJ), and, for the first time in the House of Representatives, by Chicago Rep. Danny K. Davis (D-IL7). A version of the bill was introduced in the Senate in the final days of the last Congress. The bill’s sponsors were not successful in their efforts to gain bipartisan support in advance of its introduction.

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Utah Gov. Gary Herbert signs resolution to encourage state policies and programs based on ACEs science

Utah Governor Gary Herbert

Utah Governor Gary Herbert speaks to press at the monthly conference in March

Utah Governor Gary Herbert signed into law on March 22 a resolution (H.C.R. 10) to encourage state policy and programs to incorporate the science of adverse childhood experiences to address “severe emotional trauma and other adverse childhood experiences” in children and adults and implement evidence-based interventions to increase resiliency. The resolution was approved unanimously on March 7 by the Republican-dominated legislature.

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Building human resilience for climate change addressed at Washington, DC, conference

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The missing piece in the response to climate disruption—preparing humans to cope with the trauma and toxic stress it causes—was the focus of a recent Conference on Building Human Resilience for Climate Change sponsored by the International Transformational Resilience Coalition (ITRC). About a hundred mental health professionals, emergency response and disaster management officials, and others from education and faith communities gathered in Washington, DC. Continue reading

Congressional briefing addresses public policy to improve response to ACEs

Room view with Senators Heitkamp & Durbin.jpg

In the final weeks of the 114th Congress, Senator Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) welcomed her colleague Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) as a new host for the third and final briefing on addressing adverse childhood experiences (ACEs). The December 1 briefing focused on public policies to improve coordination, prevention and response to childhood trauma.

ACEs comes from the CDC-Kaiser Permanente Adverse Childhood Experiences Study and subsequent surveys that show that most people in the U.S. have at least one ACE, and that people with an accumulation of childhood adversities — including divorce, racism, living with an alcoholic parent, and physical abuse — have a higher risk of adult onset of chronic health problems such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes, suicide, and alcoholism.

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Educators’ “complex trauma” resolution: Will it have an impact?

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Robert Hull and Donna Christy

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When I met up with school psychologists Donna Christy and Robert Hull at the Starbucks in Greenbelt, MD, they sparred good-naturedly about each other’s extra-curricular activities outside the school building—he says she is a big honcho with the National Education Association (NEA), and she says he will speak to any audience, anywhere (as long as his expenses are covered) on the subject of trauma and education. Both work for the Prince George’s (P.G.) County School District in nearby Washington, DC.

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