Sen. Dick Durbin — flanked by medical professionals at a South Side hospital — unveiled legislation Sunday that would allow more than two dozen federal grants to fund programs that help identify and treat psychological stress and trauma in kids who live in violent neighborhoods.
The grant money would be used to train teachers, librarians, doctors and others who regularly interact with kids to recognize the signs of “toxic stress” and help kids get treatment.
“We’re ready, we’ve got it written, we’re just gathering some co-sponsors at this point,” Durbin said Sunday at the University of Chicago Medical Center.
The bill is dubbed the “Trauma Informed Care for Children and Families Act,” and Durbin said he expected it would be introduced in the House and Senate in the next several weeks.
Durbin said the bill specifically relies on existing sources of funding because “under this budget that the president proposed, new funding, new money is going to be hard to do. . . . We tried to be realistic,” he said referring to massive cuts under President Donald Trump’s proposed budget.
“I don’t know if the Trump administration will support this, but the president on many different occasions has talked about gun violence in Chicago, deaths in Chicago,” Durbin said. “Well, we brought the professionals together today, we have one thing that we believe will make a profound difference in reducing violence in this city: investing in dealing with kids who’ve been victims of trauma and witnessed trauma to help them turn their lives around.”
“I’m going to challenge the administration. Don’t just tweet about our problems, help us solve them,” Durbin said.
Clinical psychologist Colleen Cicchetti, who is executive director of the Center for Childhood Resilience at Lurie Children’s Hospital, added, “We can’t expect the frontline workforce to do this unless we give them skills.”
The bill would also expand Medicaid coverage for child trauma services and increase mental health care in schools.
U.S. Rep. Danny Davis, D-Ill., pointed to Orr Academy High School’s basketball team as an exemplary group of youths who’ve seen tragedy but persevered. The Humboldt Park team won a state championship this month.
“One of the players on the team had two of his best friends shot and killed this year,” Davis said.
“The whole team has now had a number of individuals — classmates, relatives — who were shot and killed, and yet they prevailed, yet they carried on,” Davis said.
Dr. Selwyn Rogers, who will head the University of Chicago’s soon-to-be-built Adult Trauma Center, said the legislation will have a national impact, adding that Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., has signed on as a co-sponsor.
“We’ve been the poster child for community violence, especially gun violence,” Rogers said, speaking of Chicago. “We have an opportunity to do something fundamentally different.”
“Children don’t have adult coping skills, so they lash out, they don’t attend school, they’re a behavioral challenge, they get put into a corner or kicked out of school.”
Noah Bakr, 18, of Garfield Park, said he could have benefitted from such legislation.
When Bakr was an adolescent, his brother was fatally shot, which left him “with aggression and a rebellious attitude toward authority figures in general.”
He found several programs through the YMCA that helped him understand his feelings and deal with them. One program, Urban Warriors, pairs military veterans with youths exposed to violence.
“I learned that we’re dealing with different situations. The veteran I’ve spent time with has PTSD, but we’re fighting similar battles,” Bakr said.