John Schmid of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in his piece “A Time to Heal”, explores generational trauma in Milwaukee, the nation’s third most impoverished big city. The article consolidates information from local, state, and national data on Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), interviews, U.S. Census data, and statistical consultation.
In 1970, Milwaukee was an upcoming industrial city with a low poverty rate. However, industrial decline and a population decrease increased the poverty rate to 20% in many areas by 2014- a rate at which experts say that other side effects begin to rise such as crime and the drop-out rate. Milwaukee also has lower upward mobility than any developed country for which there is data, according to a 2014 study. As the city began to decline, so did the lives of the residents. High stress, poverty, unemployment, and social ills plagued the city and eventually expanded to the suburbs.
One resident of the city, Belinda Pittman-McGee, experienced these effects first-hand and founded a transitional housing program for homeless women and children to work on the major challenge facing the city today- an epidemic of trauma passed down through generations and across neighborhoods. Trauma researchers confirm that the beginning of the city’s trauma epidemic started when today’s adults were children and are being passed down to the next upcoming generation. Traumatic experiences such as neglect and abuse have shown to change the brain’s biochemical composition in children which can develop into Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
The city is turning to ACE surveys to measure childhood trauma. In Milwaukee, high ACE scores of 4 or more are more common than lower scores. For African Americans and Latinos, one in three carried an ACE score of four or more. A local residential program for sex trafficking victims show that 70% of children have a four-plus score and 0% have no ACEs. Larry Davis, a Milwaukeean with an ACE score of 9 out of 10 is now finishing a master’s degree in public health policy and works with the city’s top ACE researchers. He describes a tendency to try to repress the trauma which has become a collective silence around the city. Psychologist Yael Danieli calls this “social denial”- hiding behind stigma, pain, and shame.
Data from the CDC shows economic costs of trauma as well; estimates show that the child abuse and neglect costs the United States $124 billion and are a major contributor to incarceration and child welfare costs. Jennifer Jones of the Alliance for Strong Families and Communities points to preventative programs to save on these costs. These programs help to reduce toxic stress levels in the community and start to break the cycle of trauma by enhancing resiliency through clinical interventions. A common intervention to create resilience in individuals and communities is through “rescripting”- creating a different narrative of the lives of individuals and mapping out a healthy future that will have positive impacts on personal, community, and economic outcomes.