IWES Makes History – Founder/CEO Dr. Shervington on the First Ever Congressional Hearing on Childhood Trauma
On July 11, 2019 Dr. Denese Shervington, President and CEO of IWES, gave testimony to the United States Congress Committee on Oversight and Reform. Dr. Shervington was invited to give expert testimony by Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) in the first Congressional committee meeting ever held to address trauma as a public health crisis. The theme, Identifying, Preventing, and Treating Childhood Trauma, brought together trauma survivors, notable scholars, medical experts, and community leaders to identify meaningful steps that elected officials can take to address the growing impact of trauma in United States. This historic conversation was an acknowledgment of a national crisis that demands governmental intervention and response.
Elijah Cummings, Chairman of the Committee on Oversight and Reform, and Jim Jordan (R-OH), Ranking Member, thanked Congressional freshman Representative Ayanna Pressley (D-MA) for pushing Congress to act on this issue by framing the discussion to include issues from disaster response to the impact of mass shootings to gender-based violence, as well as the needs of combat veterans returning from war. The Committee on Oversight and Reform is “the main investigative committee of the United States House of Representatives, and has the authority to investigate the subjects within legislative jurisdiction as well ‘any matter’ within the jurisdiction of the other standing House Committees.”
Since 2005, IWES has worked to bring attention to the needs of young people exposed to traumatic events such as disasters and exposure to violence. Dr. Shervington urged Congress to look more closely at ways to effectively respond to traumatic events and to prevent chronic stressors like poverty and racial discrimination, as she testified,
I applaud your efforts and hope that I can add science and on the ground experience that can assist in the decisions I know that you will make to help all our children. I am emboldened to represent the voices of all children in the United States, who, to borrow a metaphor from the pediatrician and psychoanalyst DW Winnicott, I describe as suffering from ‘primitive agony.’ Many of our children experience the trauma of maltreatment from parents and caregivers and these circumstances are too frequently coupled with the harsh realities of the communities in which they live, and the society to which they belong, not providing the protective factors and conditions for them to heal, thrive and ultimately reach their potential.
The members of the Committee were visibly moved as the first the panel, which consisted of survivors of childhood trauma, shared their experiences of childhood sexual abuse, witnessing extreme violence and homicide in their homes, and living through the mass shooting at Columbine High School. The Committee was also impacted by the testimony from the first panel, on which Dr. Shervington sat, as a diverse group of experts in the field of childhood trauma detailed the scope of the problem. Each person who spoke talked about their professional commitment to address the impact of trauma, or what they endured as children. The survivors spoke boldly and eloquently on the impact of their traumatic experiences on their mental health and individual journeys through exposure to violence, neglect, adolescent parenthood, homelessness, and substance abuse. Dr. Shervington emphasized the astronomical human costs of trauma in terms of mental and physical health, cognitive development, loss of community cohesion and unrealized human potential. Untreated trauma has become a pandemic, and the New Orleans experience of disaster recovery exemplifies the ways that individual experiences, historical institutional injustice, and a community-level traumatic event can magnify suffering, particularly for underserved children and their families.
Next steps for Congress are to bring together national agencies like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA) that can offer interventions, services, and resources to address trauma more effectively.
As Dr. Shervington testified,
Childhood adversity is of epidemic proportion, underlying and fueling morbidity and mortality in all fifty states in America. From the opioid epidemic, which claimed greater than 47,600 lives in 2017 (CDC), or the close to 6000 homicides in America’s 50 cities in 2017 (Madhani, USA Today), untreated trauma can become a significant contributor to the underbelly of unintentional or intentional suicide and/or homicide. Given that the mission of the Centers for Disease Control, the nation’s public health and protection agency, is to ‘work 24/7 to protect America from health, safety and security threats, both foreign and in the United States,’ it seems most appropriate for this agency to lead the further development of nationwide population strategies needed to prevent, detect and respond to this epidemic and save American lives.
IWES will continue its work on trauma nationwide and here in New Orleans. The health of our community and the well-being of our children requires that we keep finding ways to heal ourselves and each other.
To see the whole testimony and recommendations put forth by Dr. Shervington and other nationally recognized experts on childhood trauma, you can watch the video below.