Twin Bills in Congress Seek to Tackle Growing Childhood Trauma Crisis

October 16, 2020 by Sara Wilkerson

WASHINGTON — Last week, Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney, D-N.Y. and Rep. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., announced their plan to introduce a pair of bills that take a holistic and community-based approach to addressing the growing crisis of childhood trauma. The announcement comes as a response to the Trump Administration’s handling of the growing childhood trauma crisis amid the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“Childhood trauma and insecurity is a public health crisis in this country,” said Maloney, who is the chairwoman of the Committee on Oversight and Reform. “Congress must pass the Children’s Protection Act and the STRONG Support for Children Act to ensure that the federal government prioritizes the health and wellbeing of our children and is a partner in breaking the cycle of intergenerational trauma fueled by race and class discrimination. 

“Every child deserves to grow up feeling safe and supported with the tools they need to create their best future, and federal actions should never undermine this bedrock value. I’m proud to continue the work of the late Chairman Elijah E. Cummings, who held the first ever Congressional hearings on childhood trauma.” 

“Too often our response to childhood trauma fails to reach those most impacted or to address the systemic failures that trigger it,” said Pressley in a public statement. “As we face a global pandemic, an economic recession, a climate crisis, and a national reckoning on police brutality and racial justice, we must act urgently and intentionally in our efforts to protect the mental health and wellbeing of our children. 

 “It is past time to take bold action to address the intersecting crises that often trigger childhood trauma and destabilize families and entire communities for generations, such as poverty, food insecurity, homelessness, and a lack of culturally competent health care. 

“By ensuring that young people have the culturally competent, neighborhood-based care and resources they need, the STRONG Support for Children Act disrupts cycles of intergenerational trauma and creates pathways for healing and liberation,” concluded Pressley. 

If passed into law, the Children’s Protection Act would require federal agencies seeking to implement rules that could potentially harm the health of at least 500 children to undergo a childhood trauma impact study before being finalized to ensure that the health, wellbeing, and futures of all children in America are prioritized. 

To make sure the impact study is sound and protects children, it will be conducted by review panels of leading experts and advocates in the child health and education fields. 

For the Services and Trauma-informed Research of Outcomes in Neighborhood Grants (STRONG) for Support for Children Act of 2020, the legislation will create two grant programs that will support local Public Health departments in addressing childhood trauma while ensuring that programming is conveniently located and accessible to all children and families regardless of immigration status, ability to pay, and prior involvement in the criminal legal system. 

The STRONG Support for Children legislation would prohibit grant recipients from using funds to increase surveillance and policing of vulnerable communities. 

Addressing the growing childhood trauma crisis stems from recent studies that show unaddressed childhood trauma is linked to several leading causes of death in America, including heart disease, lung disease, substance use, and suicide. 

Furthermore, life stressors such as exposure to poverty, homelessness, food insecurity and malnutrition, discrimination, family separation, and deportation increases the likelihood of negative health outcomes and can lead to complex trauma and toxic stress. 

Both childhood trauma bills have been endorsed by a number of child advocacy, education, and health organizations, including but not limited to the American Federation of Teachers, the Center for Law and Social Policy, the Child Welfare League of America, the Children’s Defense Fund, the National Child Abuse Coalition, the National Association of Counsel for Children, the National Association of Pediatric Nurse Practitioners and more. 

In an open letter of support for the STRONG Support for Children Act, those endorsing the legislation stated, “As organizations and individuals focused on improving child well-being and advancing equity, we understand that Congress must continue to act boldly to address the immediate impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic by providing financial support directly to families, ensuring access to health care for everyone, and other efforts. 

“We also understand that Congress must begin to account for the long-term health impacts of this crisis, particularly in regard to children, and begin the work of building equitable and healthy families and communities. 

“The STRONG Support for Children Act is an important piece of that work. We are grateful for your leadership in introducing this legislation and look forward to working with you to advocate for its passage,” concluded the letter. 

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