Originally penned by Selene Rivera, translated and reprinted with permission.
Maria C. had just given birth to her daughter three months before, but instead of being happy, optimistic and energized, like her family thought she would be, this woman had suicidal thoughts.
Maria, who is not revealing her identity, was diagnosed with post-partum depression.
She was supposed to be taking care of her baby and her other children ages 14, 10 and 4, as well as her nephews that a sister had asked her to care for, ages 12 and five.
With so much to do at home, Maria did not provide the needed care and attention to each one of her children or nephews. Often the children would see her tired, crying or with financial problems, because her husband could not find a job.
According to some experts, thousands of adults just like Maria, are facing emotional problems that can have a traumatic impact on their children. Experts also state that all of these issues may get to the point of preventing a healthy development of the minors.
To help the community with this problem, a coalition in Los Angeles County, led in part by First 5 LA, is developing a plan with the purpose of understanding and analyzing the repercussions of childhood trauma, given the fact that research shows that 80% of the children’s brain development happens before the age of three.
“Through this evaluation, we can recommend a treatment for mental health, educating the parents and other support services to help build healthier families." —Elisa Nicholas, Pediatrician and Executive Director of The Children's Hospital.
This comprehensive effort will recommend practices to be followed within the systems that offer public services in the Los Angeles County, to benefit families, according to the coalition of health and education experts.
Maria declares that for her, fortunately help came just on time. During a routine checkup for her baby at The Children’s Clinic in Long Beach, she received a questionnaire concerning physical and mental health.
“They told me that I was suffering from post-partum depression. The experts not only asked questions about how I was feeling, but also about what was the situation at my home and how they could help me” says Maria.
Through the clinic, this 35 years old woman received not only therapy, but also clothing, diapers and a baby carrier to replace the “rebozo wrap” that she had been using to carry her baby, as well as other essential items.
A year and a half after her diagnosis, Maria declares: “If it had not been for the help I got, I don’t know what would have happened with me or my family”.
The importance of getting to the root of the problem
Elisa Nicholas, Pediatrician and Executive Director of The Children’s Hospital, maintains that the key to helping children is by helping their parents.
“With almost two thirds of Californians having survived some type of significant trauma, and another 25% with three or more emotional issues in their lives, childhood trauma is perhaps the biggest crisis in public health,” declared Nicholas.
“Through this evaluation, we can recommend treatment for mental health, education for parents and other support services to create healthier families,” added Nicholas.
According to the pediatrician, if every family with emotional problems could have access to this kind of comprehensive care, the future of many minors would change.
Together with First 5 LA, the California Community Foundation, the California Endowment and the Ralph M. Parsons Foundation, as well as other well known organizations within the health and education community, all are part of the effort to get to the root of the problems that parents are facing, to be able to help children.
This plan is crucial for the children and their education, declared Pía Escudero, Director of Mental Health and Crisis Services Advisor for the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD).
“We have decided to be part of the effort to be better informed. Trauma prevails in all cultures and socioeconomic levels. Children arrive at our classrooms to learn, carrying those traumatic burdens, and that is why many of them have very little opportunity to achieve success,” declared Escudero.
In the district of Los Angeles, the expert affirms, nearly 1,500 students receive some form of service every year.
Additionally, Kim Belshé, Executive Director of First 5 LA, asserted that, “Childhood trauma is a serious health concern affecting many children and families. A young child living through a difficult home situation may be unable to express their fears and feelings clearly. We must speak for them. By using a trauma informed approach in our work with County residents, we can help minimize the impact of trauma and give families the opportunity to reverse its harmful impact on our youngest children.”
Before delivering their recommendations, the coalition’s work will happen over the next coming months from July through December. The goal will then be to implement this work through public services that care for parents and their children, such as non-profit organizations, hospitals and schools.
The results of these findings will be revealed in early 2017.