Written by Emily Woodruff (of The Advocate)
A group of New Orleans health professionals, in partnership with the City Council, has been given $435,000 to address the city’s high rate of childhood trauma over the next three years.
Their plan: Tap the city’s social aid and pleasure clubs, Carnival krewes and other culture bearers to serve as conduits for children and families to find resources from the public health community.
The new initiative, called Empower NOLA, will try to implement two of the top 10 recommendations from a report commissioned by the City Council on widespread trauma experienced by New Orleans’ youth:
Dr. Lauren Teverbaugh, a Tulane University pediatrician and child psychologist, directs the initiative, which will identify leaders in the social clubs, form focus groups, create retreats for community members and form partnerships between social clubs and schools.
“Strongly cohesive, naturally occurring social networks that have decades of history in the various communities of Orleans Parish serve a strong healing purpose for people historically disenfranchised from traditional mental health and social supports,” Teverbaugh said Friday.
Other members of the team include Dr. Maurice Sholas, who operates a private medical consulting practice; Arnold James, a psychologist at the Southeast Louisiana Veterans Health Care System; and Rhonda Jackson, the director of Share Our Strength No Kids Hungry campaign in Louisiana.
“We need to make sure that professionals dealing with our children know how to be culturally competent, talk to them, reach them,” said Sholas, who holds a medical degree as well as a Ph.D. in neuroscience from Harvard University. Sholas came up with the idea to incorporate Carnival krewes and clubs during the 2020 Mardi Gras season.
The group will also focus on softer responses to bad behavior than discipline, said James, who will act as liaison between Empower NOLA and the social networks.
“Children are not necessarily bad; they can also just be sad,” James said.
The initiative was sparked by the report, Called to Care, that found one in five New Orleans children had witnessed murder, one in three witnessed domestic violence and 40% had seen someone shot, stabbed or beaten.
The task force that put together the report included health professionals from the Institute of Women and Ethnic Studies, the New Orleans Children and Youth Planning Board, Metropolitan Human Services District, the Children’s Bureau of New Orleans and United Way, among others. They came up with more than 80 remedies for trauma.
“Our children are being traumatized and re-traumatized, and sometimes being raised by parents suffering with that same trauma,” City Councilman Jason Williams said. “And they have not received the proper attention or intervention services necessary to bring people out of those places of trauma.”
Mayor LaToya Cantrell said addressing the high rate of childhood trauma in New Orleans was even more important as children, amid the coronavirus pandemic, endure higher rates of domestic abuse and fewer extracurricular activities.
“Trauma carries on, and it carries on right in the heart of our community through our children in our homes every single day,” Cantrell said. “It’s been more impacted during this pandemic of COVID-19 in ways that I didn’t even realize.”
The funding is provided by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Clinical Scholars program.