How was Senator Pan’s Town Hall Meeting on June 16, 2016? Amazing! It was an exciting surprise to hear the panelists, including Dr. Pan, knowledgeably discuss the ACEs study, even using the term “toxic stress”!
Unfortunately, I missed the panelists’ presentations, but mental health was centered in the public comment discussion that followed the panelist presentations.
The panelists included:
Craig Cheslog, Common Sense Kids Action
George Miller, Right Start Commission and Retired U.S. Congress Representative (Contra Costa County until 2015)
Dr. Richard Pan, California State Senator, Senate District 6
Kim Williams, Director of Building Health Communities
As the flyer indicates, the panel introduced Senator Pan’s legislative agenda to develop a Children’s Bill of Rights, with the mission of creating a child-centered California.
Partners in this work include the organization Common Sense Kids Action, home of the Right Start Commission which “recommends ways to address the stark challenges facing California's youngest kids and issues a call to action”. Learn more, including a short video shown at the Town Hall as well as a report with policy recommendations, on the Common Sense website.
A Fruitful Discussion
About 50 people attended the Town Hall, and it seemed that at least half stood in line to ask questions, generating a robust discussion.
The issues raised by the attendees, some of whom were community members and parents, and others that represented a range of Sacramento’s public agencies and community based organizations, foregrounded mental health needs in policy advocacy.
Below, I’ve jotted down my notes from the public comments. As you'll see, there are many professionals and community members who perceive the need for more focus on the psychological and emotional health of the community, whether or not they are currently aware of ACEs (though some are aware). As Resilient Sacramento continues to work toward the mission of raising awareness, we will find many for whom this work will immediately resonate.
--A trauma therapist with experience running Restorative Justice groups stressed the importance of providing robust intervention options. She believes that referrals to mental health treatment too often over-rely on psychotropic interventions, when there are other modalities that would be more effective, including trauma therapy. Her comments led to a discussion of the ACEs study, with which Dr. Pan was very familiar.
Dr. Pan actively supports training pediatricians in using ACEs screening tools, to integrate an awareness of the impact of toxic stress and trauma into routine pediatric practice. The Academy of Pediatricians is opening up to this goal, due to the fact that ACEs research provides evidence based solutions. This development will likely encourage a greater use of non-psychotropic interventions.
Dr. Pan framed his advocacy of child-centered services as a re-investment in “the commons”- a philosophical concept that is linked to a pre-Industrial Age belief that every community shares the resources needed for survival. He envisions that we can create a “built environment” that reflects the values raised in the discussion, but we simultaneously need to immediately improve how we serve communities as they are currently structured, while we work toward that built environment vision.
--A representative from a Child Abuse Prevention program discussed the need to find ways to prevent child abuse, not just address it with child welfare placements. She explained that it is critical to increase the use of strategies we already know to be effective, such as positive parenting workshops and home visitation nurses, which successfully help struggling parents to interrupt generational cycles of normalized violence in the home.
She called for sufficient funding that would enable an expansion of these highly effective strategies for preventing child abuse. She also called for more CASAs- more Court Appointed Special Advocates for children, who advocate for foster youth’s voice in their child welfare proceedings. She also observed that social workers need training in trauma-informed practice.
--A parent shared how deeply her son, now 16, was impacted by bullying in elementary school. After confronting years of lack of school support to address the bullying, she now feels the urgency of training teachers to understand the impacts of abuse.
--A parent who has a child diagnosed with autism, shared how her status as above the poverty line but not that much above, leaves her unable to both work and meet her child’s special needs. She needs child care in order to work, but most child care facilities are unable to provide the kind of care her child’s needs necessitate.
--An organizer raised the issue of the disparate impact on Latinx youth on getting their needs met across all domains of life. She argued that disparate impact should be an issue included in a Children’s Bill of Rights.
--A community leader urged that social and emotional learning need to be a focus in order to fully meet students’ needs.
--A representative from First 5 Sacramento commented that although First 5 has invested 29 million in Sacramento children, it’s still not enough to serve all needs. At this moment, First 5 is realizing the need for leadership at the policy level. First 5 is moving toward more focus on advocacy and policy impact.
--A representative from a mental health services organization emphasized that mental illness diagnoses, including schizophrenia, responds to early intervention, which can have an impact on the trajectory of people’s lives. He urged the panelists to center in their policy efforts, the right to early intervention in order to prevent worsening illness.
--A community member shared the panel’s commitment to creating child centered communities, noting that realizing this vision requires adequate resources to build programs that can support this commitment. Resources and funding have been lacking, and this gap will need to be addressed along with the vision and cultural shift.
--The Executive Director of the Sacramento Public Library attended, and shared that the library will be a critical partner in helping to understand the needs of the community. The community relies on the library to informally fill gaps left in the social services struggling families need, especially with out-of-school time opportunities for kids. The library provides activities over the summer that help prevent learning loss, crucial to families who do not have money for expensive summer enrichment programs. The library is also often de facto child care throughout the year.
--Several leaders of after school programs echoed the need for after school programs.
--Two parents shared their concern that a children’s bill of rights would infringe on parents’ rights to make decisions for their own children. Panelists’ response was that their advocacy goal is to increase access. It is crucial that income factors don’t prevent families from meeting their children’s needs for health, emotional, and material well-being. Dr. Pan cited examples like child care that is affordable, and available for workers who work all kinds of hours. His agenda is about ensuring that supports become embedded for all families; the agenda is not about limiting parents’ decision-making.