Make Bal­ti­more a trauma-in­formed city, but make sure it has the re­sources it needs

Baltimore Sun - - FROM PAGE ONE -

In some parts of Bal­ti­more, vi­o­lence and death are a nor­mal part of life. Chil­dren see dead bod­ies and hear gun­shots ring out on a reg­u­lar ba­sis. They wit­ness vi­o­lent fights and close rel­a­tives ar­rested by cops and carted off to jail. Po­lice cars, their sirens blar­ing, rush down the street so fre­quently it’s like back­ground noise. Kids live in poverty stricken neigh­bor­hoods and house­holds with par­ents strug­gling with sub­stance abuse.

Peo­ple are liv­ing lives filled with trauma that makes it a strug­gle to get through the day. More than 56% of chil­dren in Bal­ti­more have ex­pe­ri­enced at least one trau­matic event in their lives. Th­ese young peo­ple may have a tough time con­cen­trat­ing in school, and peo­ple of all ages who have had such ex­pe­ri­ences may have dif­fi­culty keep­ing their emotions in check. In turn, they may lash out and ap­pear er­ratic. This trauma of­ten spans gen­er­a­tions, mak­ing it hard for par­ents with un­treated trauma to help their chil­dren — and the cy­cle just con­tin­ues.

City Coun­cil­man Zeke Cohen — re­al­iz­ing the root causes of the city’s so­cial prob­lems need to be ad­dressed if we want to see an end to poverty, vi­o­lent crime and other is­sues — wants to trans­form Bal­ti­more into a trauma-re­spon­sive city.

We stand be­hind the idea, which would have em­ploy­ees at all lev­els of govern­ment take into ac­count a per­son’s trau­matic back­ground. Teach­ers work to calm stu­dents down and fig­ure out what is go­ing on in their lives to make them act out rather than throw them out of class. The same could be said about in­struc­tors at the city recre­ation cen­ters. Find a kid help rather then send him back to the streets be­cause he gets too up­set over los­ing a bas­ket­ball game. Po­lice can deesca­late rather than pull a gun and worsen a sit­u­a­tion. So­cial work­ers help con­nect fam­i­lies to coun­sel­ing rather than re­move kids from par­ents.

Some in­sti­tu­tions within the city have al­ready in­de­pen­dently taken this ap­proach. The school sys­tem has ramped up its hir­ing of so­cial work­ers, and sev­eral schools turn to “restora­tive jus­tice” be­fore sus­pend­ing a stu­dent. Un­der for­mer Health Com­mis­sioner Leana Wen, the city made ad­dress­ing trauma an un­der­ly­ing com­po­nent of its ef­fort to ad­dress Bal­ti­more’s health in­equal­i­ties.

A city­wide com­pre­hen­sive strat­egy will help peo­ple work to­gether rather than in si­los. They can pass along what works and what doesn’t and set up stan­dards for all agen­cies to fol­low. Mr. Cohen was prompted to in­tro­duce his leg­is­la­tion af­ter hear­ing from stu­dents at Fred­er­ick Dou­glass High School fol­low­ing a shoot­ing there. His leg­is­la­tion creates a task force that would con­tinue to en­gage peo­ple from the com­mu­nity. Mr. Cohen’s plan makes the com­mu­nity a part of the so­lu­tion and not the prob­lem.

We only ask that Mr. Cohen and the coun­cil make sure the money is there to im­ple­ment such a bold and life-chang­ing idea. We’ve heard too many par­ents com­plain that dis­ci­pline is be­ing lost in schools and teach­ers com­plain they have no con­trol over their class­rooms in the name of restora­tive jus­tice. It’s not that th­ese prac­tices don’t work but that the schools don’t al­ways have all the tools they need to im­ple­ment such re­source-in­ten­sive prac­tices. We need key play­ers not to feel over­bur­dened but em­pow­ered to usher through change. We have seen pro­grams come and go at the whim of the grant cy­cle.

Mr. Cohen has said he does not know yet how much some­thing like this would cost. We know it won’t be cheap, and we en­cour­age him to get a bet­ter grasp. Ul­ti­mately, we are con­fi­dent that money spent now to ad­dress trauma will be more than made up for later in lower costs of policing, in­car­cer­a­tion, addiction treat­ment and more.

What­ever the upfront costs, we are en­cour­aged by the ef­fort to make a cul­tural shift in the city, no mat­ter how daunt­ing it may be. It is not enough any­more to ig­nore whole com­mu­ni­ties.

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