Letter from the Editor - August Edition: Trauma in Our City
by: Denese Shervington, MD, MPH
In 2014 data we collected showed rates of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Depression two to three times the national rate among youth in our programs. In response to these alarming statistics, we created a citywide public awareness campaign to advocate for compassionate and transformative responses to address the suffering of young people in New Orleans. The campaign, In That Number, focused on changing negative perceptions of youth, as well as the need for trauma-informed care (TIC) services for youth displaying behavioral dysregulation. Instead of viewing youth with behavioral issues as “bad,” the campaign challenged adults throughout the city to see them as possibly “sad” and in need of trauma-based mental health services. The chief purpose was to help to interrupt the school-to-prison pipeline and excessive school suspensions, ultimately leading to a healthier, more equitable and safer New Orleans for all. In March of 2016 we launched the digital component of the campaign with three days of unfolding images paired with personal narratives and relevant statistics from IWES’ data in specially crafted Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter posts. The stories were also accessible at our dedicated In That Number website. To complement its online presence, the campaign was also visible throughout the city on billboards, buses and/or streetcars, and through other traditional outlets such as TV ads.
The campaign adopted two strategic objectives. The first was to engage and create partnerships with media to influence the frame within which they portrayed vulnerable children. Fortunately, we have been able to accomplish this objective as the campaign has been widely recognized and well received at both a local and national scale. In 2016 the City Council’s Children and Youth Planning Board adopted a resolution to support the campaign and in February of 2017 the campaign was featured in the local newspaper’s editorial titled, "New Orleans children need help dealing with trauma: An Editorial." A few months later In That Number received national coverage from NPR in the story “When Schools Meet Trauma with Understanding, Not Discipline” and an article in The New Yorker – “A Murder Hits New Orleans.”
The second campaign objective was to develop partnerships with other youth-serving organizations to advocate for resources to provide more trauma-informed care services to local residents. The number one option identified to get those resources was a city-wide millage because we believe that if all children are seen as deserving of compassionate healing, the public should support the services that the campaign highlights.
And finally, after the recent release of the heart-wrenching multimedia series “The Children of Central City” by two Times Picayune journalists, John Bullington and Richard Webster, the city seems to be responding to the campaign’s battle cry to recognize our children’s pain – the pain of living in communities traumatized by the chronic adversities that come with poverty and racism, and the acute shock of Katrina. Our public leaders are listening and asking what needs to be done.
There seems to be trauma mania everywhere and everyone now wants to be In That Number!