“I agree with everything you said, but what’s the ask?” This was the first question at our Santa Fe community forum on our book, Anna, Age Eight, focused on preventing childhood trauma. The enthusiastic attendee added, “What exactly do you want me to do?”
My first thought was, “Don’t you know?!?” My second thought was, “Maybe he, and others, really don’t know that it’s all about holding elected officials accountable.”
It became clear that if we wanted our forum attendees to engage with our elected officials on our issues, they would need their contact info.
I dutifully went home, poured a large glass of water and sat at my desktop to create a list of our city and county elected officials and stakeholders. As I was compiling the names, it occurred to me that making change, as in the social moonshot change we are advocating, would take a handful of people.
One mayor and eight council people. One county manager and five county commissioners. Five school board members and one superintendent.
That’s 21 people in Santa Fe.
These 21 civic-minded folks control the budgets and set the priorities for our local services, including our schools. They also care deeply about kids and families. Yes, they all have different views on the role of government in solving problems. They are also all accessible and that means an invitation to dialogue.
Some of the 21 are quite supportive of our data-driven and tech-infused solutions, while others might be overwhelmed (at first) with the enormity of the problem. Pitching bold change in a culture that has a long history of slow incremental change can be unsettling.
In a perfect world, the 21 would have a shared vision of creating trauma-free childhoods within resilient families. Imagine our county, city and school board leaders working together in a collaborative and data-driven manner. We have already offered them our blueprint for ending childhood trauma in Anna, Age Eight: The data-driven prevention of childhood trauma and maltreatment.
It all starts with making safe childhoods a priority. I know from conversations with representatives from all levels of government, all reasonable and compassionate people, that there is currently no line item with the city, county or school budget called “preventing childhood trauma.” That can change as we make it clear how investing in creating a trauma-free city makes for an attractive place to live, learn, work, raise kids, attract businesses and succeed.
We can’t put all the burden for change on the 21. Each of us plays a vital role. We collectively need to understand the severity of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) and trauma. We must acknowledge that a significant number of our kids live in homes where adults misuse substances, are threatening or violent, have untreated mental health challenges, are neglectful and abusive physically, emotionally and sexually. About a fourth of our kids will endure three or more ACEs, damaging behaviors, most flying under the radar of Child Protective Services. The more ACEs a person endures, the more chance of struggling with school, work and healthy relationships.
Our prevention plan requires strengthening the quality of ten key services shown to empower families, including trauma-informed behavioral health care. We want every community in the county to be well-resourced so all members are empowered to succeed in school, work and civic life. There’s a place for everyone in our movement.
We are at a tipping point, a place in history where we can transform local government into a problem-solving machine. We know that localities have traditionally focused their attention and budget on police, fire, tax collecting and zoning. Today, it’s a new society with an awareness of the emotional and financial costs of childhood trauma and parents with untreated trauma.
With an epidemic of family trauma raging, gone are the days when an elected official could get a pass by saying, “Well, preventing childhood trauma is important but it’s not what local government does.” Government does whatever it needs to do to make life successful and safe for all its residents-especially its most vulnerable children.
We believe our local leaders are ready to engage in the design of child-friendly cities, where families thrive, and every community is well-resourced. Our job is to present the social moonshot plan, collaborate and commit to its launch. It’s what’s needed and entirely possible. When enough of the 21 agree, the mission is on.
THEN WHAT IS THE ASK?
In the Anna Age Eight’s closing chapter, “Why we all live in Santa Fe, NM,” we share that all the trauma our children are facing in our beautiful city known as “The City Different,” exists in every city across the nation. The next step is yours—email your elected officials today with one simple question: With epidemic rates of childhood and family trauma, what’s our strategic plan for ensuring the safety and health of all our children?
RESOURCES FOR YOUR TOOKBOX
Read Anna, Age Eight: www.AnnaAgeEight.org
Authors’ next Santa Fe Community Forum: The authors of Anna, Age Eight: The data-driven prevention of childhood trauma and maltreatment, Katherine Ortega Courtney, PhD and Dominic Cappello, discuss their book focused on local strategies for ending childhood trauma and how to create a very new type of city hall, child welfare department and school system focused on prevention—a monumental challenge that requires the engagement of all of us. Thursday, July 26, 2018 10:00 AM – 12:00 PM, Santa Fe Community Foundation. Fees: FREE. For more information about web-streaming and to reserve a spot visit: Reservations
Authors’ radio interview: Listen
Resilience Leaders: ACEs prevention project: www.ResilienceLeaders.org
Article on using data to prevent childhood trauma in Las Cruces: Read
Authors’ letter to the editor: New Mexico must overhaul child welfare system
To get the contact list of the Santa Fe 21: email Dom@safetyandsuccess.org