City to strengthen mental health services

In response to the December Newtown shooting, New Haven has started a Community Resilience Initiative dedicated to coordinating and strengthening mental health services in the Elm City.

U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, Mayor John DeStefano Jr., Superintendent of New Haven Public Schools Reginald Mayo and State Sen. Toni Harp met on Monday at Metropolitan Business Academy to discuss the new program and announce that they plan to seek additional funding for the city’s mental health services. The plan includes additional funding for the New Haven Trauma Coalition, which promotes mental health and well-being for pregnant and parenting women in New Haven, and for Boost!, which partners New Haven Public Schools with nonprofits in the community to offer programs to students.

In addition, all New Haven public school students will be screened for Adverse Childhood Experiences, or ACE, and the city will launch a campaign to educate the public about mental health awareness and the impact of childhood trauma.

“As a city we propose doing the smart thing — both financially and in terms of preventing suffering — by moving our investment to the front end, intervening and preventing the lifelong effects of ACEs on our young people,” DeStefano said.

Some children in New Haven are exposed to various traumatic events including physical abuse, parental incarceration and witnessing violence at home, DeLauro said. In a recent pilot program for ACE screenings at Sound Schools, 90 percent of kindergartners reported experiencing ACE events, but only 23 percent were currently displaying symptoms. City officials speculate that if untreated, the residual trauma from these ACE events will likely become problematic later in life. Harp added that 33 percent of all the state’s attorney’s cases involve instances of domestic violence, which is another source of childhood trauma.

The New Haven public school system has already started working to tackle mental distress issues. Boost! has partnered with the Foundation for The Arts and Trauma to provide preventative mental health services in certain New Haven schools. The program runs short play sessions for elementary school students, and for high school students, the program offers both counseling services and a class teaching students to relate social and historical issues to their personal experiences. Boost!, a program at NHPS, is expected to expand to five more schools next year, and the Community Resilience Initiative will offer more Boost!-like services for New Haven students.

Many of the politicians present at Metropolitan Business Academy mentioned that this initiative will aid the city in its School Change Initiative goals.

“This is another example of the kind of passionate commitment to [education] and to our schoolchildren,” DeLauro said. “For our kids to thrive, we have to support healthy development — that’s what this initiative is all about.”

In addition to strengthening support services for children, the Community Resilience Initiative will incorporate local feedback into its effort to improve mental health resources in the Elm City. Along with a media campaign to increase public awareness of deficiencies in local mental health services, the initiative will expand the Child Development-Community Policing Program, an alliance between the city of New Haven, the New Haven Police Department and the Yale Child Study Center, to improve community policing efforts.

At Metropolitan Business Academy, 42 percent of students participating in a Boost! activity improved their school attendance rate.

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