Mental Health Care has always been a contentious and urgent subject in public policy; contentious because of the numerous, divergent solutions that have arisen in order to deal with the social issue, and urgent because of the sheer scope of the population affected by mental illness. In this instance, I speak of those already diagnosed with one or more mental illnesses, but the fact of the matter is that the socialization that youths undergo, as well as the traumas they may be exposed to, represent a key nexus of the policy area, as well as the focus of the RISE from Trauma Act.
The Resilience, Innovation, Support, and Expansion (RISE) From Trauma Act, introduced into the Senate by Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL), is a grant-heavy legislation which seeks to target communities where children are more likely to experience trauma, as well as to support organizations which already implement programs and policies which aid children and youths affected by trauma. With a cap of $4 million in grants, and a focus on preventing mental illness from manifesting as a result of trauma experienced in childhood or adolescence, the RISE From Trauma Act is a lofty piece of legislation that, upon its implementation, may dole out much needed resources to already established programming and social services.
There are two concerns that arise with this legislation:
(1) the narrow scope of this policy, in focusing funding upon organizations or community leaders whose programming targets children in areas where experiencing trauma has a high probability, misses the natural onset of mental illness not due to direct experience with trauma, but due to ambient environment and genetic factors. While seeking specifically to aid children who have experienced trauma is a worthy endeavor, focusing on this population specifically does not guarantee that the full breadth of a community’s mental healthcare will be addressed, neither now, nor in the future.
(2) It is often especially tricky for organizations like social services or non-profits geared toward social work to be able to address even cases of child abuse or endangerment that are apparent, and in this respect, the generous amount of grants that would be made available by this legislation may give needed aid; lack of funding and resources is often a key stressor in many social work organizations, not to mention the stress of the work itself. However, because of the difficult situation that many children experiencing trauma find themselves, it may not be enough to make grants available to any organization that qualifies; setting aside money specifically for those emergency clinics and centers which receive potentially traumatized children and youth, may be an important step as well.
My first recommendation is to offer grants for organizations which take care of the mental health of children as a whole, not simply those who give priority to those children who have been “traumatized”. While on paper, helping traumatized children sounds like the more noble or pressing goal, it is often more difficult or sometimes embarrassing for traumatized children and their caretakers or guardians to recognize that a child has been traumatized, and the social cues that one might expect to receive for realizing a child has been traumatized in ones care can present a barrier to aid.
It would be a more holistic – and sometimes necessarily face-saving option – to ensure that organizations and leaders who specialize in child psychology for example, to be given access to aid as well, even if their particular program does not specifically aid children who have been identified as having been “traumatized” according to the RISE From Trauma Act definition.
My second recommendation is simple: focus a portion of the RISE From Trauma Act grant funding on emergency rooms, hospitals and clinics. Repeated instances of broken bones, bruises unaccounted for on a child’s body, selective mutism, and more can be potential signs of a traumatized child, but unfortunately – especially given the current pandemic – the triage-focused nature of emergency rooms can mean that such signs are overlooked in the attempt to fix what may only be a symptom of trauma.
Focusing a segment of the allotted funding to emergency rooms where they may, for example, appoint representatives or physicians whose primary goal is to ensure that children and adolescents are being released to healthy and secure environments, could be one way to not only make sure that the event or injury that brought a child in is not a symptom of a larger issue, but could also be a means of identifying children who do exhibit signs of trauma and directing them and their guardians to needed resources as mentioned in the RISE From Trauma Act.