Hidden Trauma

Some black academics criticized President Obama for engaging in “respectability politics” when he did things like launch the My Brother’s Keeper initiative. But when the President met with the young people involved in the Becoming a Man program in Chicago and during his visit to the Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Nation, he likely heard stories like the ones in this article by Sam P.K. Collins titled: The Hidden Trauma Plaguing American Kids.

While conversations about PTSD often focus on soldiers returning from combat zones, research in recent years has shown the development of symptoms in children who live in violent environments…

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention identifies symptoms of PTSD as flashbacks, nightmares, severe anxiety and loss of trust in people. For children of color still reeling from the effects of crime, poverty, limited health care, and poor schools in their low-income neighborhoods, the mental disorder can take a toll on the mind…

One in three young urban dwellers who experience mild to severe forms of PTSD say that people may doubt the severity of what they see, especially if they live in high-crime, high-poverty areas. But D.C.-based psychotherapist Lanada Williams argues that constant exposure to even the smallest incidences of violence — whether it’s physical, sexual, or verbal — can spur the development of mental ailments in children, especially in cases where school officials misinterpret cries for help as acts of delinquency.

Via the research Collins referred to, we are beginning to develop an understanding of the effects chronic (or complex) trauma has on child development and the behaviors that result. As he notes, failure to acknowledge it is part of the vicious cycle that feeds suspensions/expulsions from school and entry into the juvenile justice system.

“When children of color act up, we don’t try to get to the meat of what’s affecting that child. Instead, we adjudicate them and move them through the system,” Williams, also CEO of Alliance Family Solutions, a private counseling practice, told ThinkProgress.

Children of color (especially black boys) who suffer from chronic trauma are the ones who are also being robbed of their childhood innocence when they “act up.”

Black boys as young as 10 may not be viewed in the same light of childhood innocence as their white peers, but are instead more likely to be mistaken as older, be perceived as guilty and face police violence if accused of a crime, according to new research.

The end result is what the Children’s Defense Fund calls The Cradle to Prison Pipeline.

The reason this kind of trauma remains “hidden” is that – in a country that likes to proclaim that “children are our future” – the fact of the matter is that these children and their families too often live in the shadows (as Lisbeth Schorr described it).

Over the years, the Washington Monthly has been one of the few publications to shine a light into those shadows. For example, one of the most powerful articles I’ve ever read on the topic came from Benjamin Dueholm – who wrote about his personal experience as a foster parent.

If – like me – you care about that kind of reporting, please make a donation to the Washington Monthly. Your support allows us to expose what has otherwise been hidden and highlight solutions that will give these children a chance.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly. Follow her on Twitter @Smartypants60 .