By Megan Ockert
How can the city of Flint move from the community-wide trauma of the water crisis toward strengthened resilience?
Coordinators of a grant from the federal government are proceeding to answer that question, and to do so, they have a million dollars a year to work with over the next five years.
Last September the city, in partnership with the University of Michigan – Flint, was awarded $4.9 million from the federal government’s Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) to help put Flint on the road to recovery.
The Resiliency in Communities After Stress and Trauma (ReCAST) grant is designed to promote resilience, community empowerment, and long-term well-being for families and youth, particularly in cities exposed to trauma through natural and manmade disasters or civil disturbances.
Flint is one of eight cities in the country receiving funds in response to community trauma. The others are Ferguson, MO; Baltimore, Milwaukee, Chicago, Oakland, San Antonio and Minneapolis.
Program Director Dr. Vicki Johnson-Lawrence, an assistant professor in the Department of Health and Health Sciences at the UM – Flint, and Dr. Pamela Pugh, the City of Flint’s new chief public health advisor, have spent much of the last few months soliciting insights and ideas from Flint residents about how the grant might best promote resilience.
ReCAST implementation partners include Genesee County Health Department, Youth Violence Prevention Center, Flint Community Schools, Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, Mott Community College, Big Brothers/Big Sisters, and others.
Pugh said the ReCAST team is still in the developmental stages. Strategies are expected to include youth and community organizing, mentoring programs, and youth development.
To get the community involved, Johnson-Lawrence and Pugh hosted a series of community meetings at the Flint City Hall to give local agency representatives and the public an opportunity to help decide where the grant funding will be spent. A December meeting included a group of former Flint teachers as well as representatives from the Flint Childrens’ Museum, The Boys and Girls Club, the Crim Fitness Foundation, Crime Stoppers, the YWCA, among others.
In a major 2017 kick-off, last week they sponsored a two-day training at Berston Fieldhouse provided free of charge to participants by the National Center for Trauma Informed Care. Speakers included experts on trauma-informed approaches, as well as residents and professionals who have employed trauma-informed approaches in the Baltimore, MD community.
Johnson-Lawrence stated the mission behind the initiative is to “help the Flint community succeed.” She said one of her goals for the project is “to insure that new problems aren’t created while we find solutions to solve other problems.”
“SAMHSA uses the term ‘trauma informed approach’ a lot when talking about the ReCAST grant,” she said. “I’ve talked to several Flint residents about what this term actually means, and my understanding is that we try and do the most good wherever we can without infringing on the rights of others or making them feel victimized.”
The original grant submission from the local partners identified five aims:
— To build on an extensive range of local programs and partnerships to support at-risk youth and families to reduce violence.
— Use trauma-informed evidence, based on programming to mitigate potential behavioral health impacts of the Flint water crisis.
— Integrate evidence-based violence prevention programming to divert high-risk youth from the school to prison pipeline.
— Create a trauma-informed First responder community by providing trauma training to local police, first responders, correction officers and others.
— Increase capacity for youth and families in the Flint community to support skill building and career opportunities.
Seventy percent — about 223 million — adults in the U.S. have experienced some type of traumatic event at least once in their lives, according to a handout, “How to Manage Trauma” provided by the ReCAST team. Those events can include childhood abuse or neglect; war and other forms of violence; accidents and natural disasters; grief and loss; physical, emotional or sexual abuse; witnessing acts of violence; cultural, intergeneration and historical trauma.
Johnson-Lawrence and Pugh aimed their grant submission specifically to high-risk youth and their families affected by the Flint Water emergency. Their research suggested at least 34,000 residents age 0-21 fit the criteria of those likely to be experiencing poverty, exposure to violence and trauma, decreased education and employment opportunities.
Some of those affected by the water crisis already had a history of traumatic events. For example, they cited a two-year study of at-risk youth by the Hurley Hospital Emergency Department that 52 percent of Flint youths had had at least one firearm violence encounter — either as a perpetrator or victim.
According to materials describing the grant, the success of the ReCAST grant is dependent on significant community participation, and partnerships are seen in the implementation design as an integral part of the program.
Johnson-Lawrence said strategic planning is underway this month, and decisions will be made soon as to what programming will be funded with the grant. She said she hopes the grant does more than provide clinical care, adding, “I hope to create bridges throughout the Flint community.” She said a “resilient summit” is planned for March.
On the City of Flint website, Mayor Karen Weaver said, “Through this grant, we will be able to directly engage our community partners and support our most valuable resources: our residents. Together we will provide thousands of Flint residents with the necessary tools and support needed to break systemic cycles of trauma and create a healthy and resilient city.”
Questions and comments regarding the ReCAST grant are welcome and can be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org or mailed to UM-Flint Public Health and Health Services c/o Dr. Vicki Johnson-Lawrence—ReCAST, 3124 William S. White Building, 303 E. Kearsley St. Flint, MI. 48502.
Staff writer Megan Ockert can be reached at email@example.com. EVM editor Jan Worth-Nelson contributed to this report. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.