This year, with so much shooting and over 540 homicides, my heart is heavy for the Philadelphians left in the wake of death and living in dangerous communities. For every victim, there are whole networks of people and extended communities dealing with the loss of family, stability, hope, safety and security.
The lasting grief, depression, shock, and human trauma is practically treated as an afterthought. Much greater energy needs to be focused on the aftermath of this god-awful bloodshed and hopelessness. Unlike gun laws, local leaders have direct control over the ways we can help neighborhoods heal. First and foremost, all professions directly serving traumatized people and children need better support, training and yes, compensation.
While no one knows for certain what the future will bring, many agree a disruptive and perhaps chaotic world awaits our children.
Smart and intentional strategic collaboration is the only real way of solving such daunting problems. For our region to be more future-ready, human resilience and quality of life issues will need more serious attention. Chronic stress creates disease and undermines our ability to live and thrive. It is far less possible for people and children become lifelong learners if grief and trauma are not addressed. We can focus more energy and resources on long-term efforts to support residents as they cope with ever-challenging conditions.
Here are five ways our local leaders and philanthropists can reduce the negative aftermath of all of this bloodshed, heal the trauma in our communities and build human resilience:
1. The City of Brotherly Love and Sisterly Affection should reject and retire the insider’s phrase “Misery Map.”
This is the term used by government officials to describe parts of the city where residents struggle the most with issues like housing and food insecurity, high infant mortality, violence, unemployment and the like. Words matter, even those said behind closed doors. It is past time to retire dismissive negativity and speak in more aspirational ways. Consider instead “Trauma-Informed Tracts” or “Extra-Care Communities.”
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2. Take Dr. Nadine Burke-Harris’ advice.
Every pediatrician, in our public and private practices, should routinely conduct for every child an Adverse Childhood Experiences assessment (ACE), which scores trauma in a young life. This very simple assessment raises awareness about preventing ACEs in the first place, and a collaborative and nurturing response from family and school networks can mitigate the onset of chronic health conditions associated with high ACEs.
A protocol like this will acknowledge hardship and could shift mindsets. Every family could use a good conversation about trauma and increasingly important coping skills. Yet, too many need to deal with major life hardships like a neighbor, cousin, uncle or brother getting shot and killed. Many need trauma-informed support to develop habits for healing now and coping for the future. Otherwise, children risk becoming addicts, dealers or both, and the cycle continues.
3. Care work must be a good job.
All of the occupations, where people serve the emotional and human needs of others, are future-proof. Yet, they are also experiencing acute and damaging shortages due to low wages, lack of training, stressful conditions, part-time only opportunities, or all of the above.
Tanisha Aiken-Woods, owner of Little Learner’s Literacy Academy, is one of many child care center owners who struggle. “How can I compete for quality teachers when Wawa requires no special credential, pays the same and has signing bonuses? Every center I know needs teachers right now.”
Child care workers, teacher’s assistants, noon-time aides, teachers, social workers, all health and human service workers, even bus drivers and cafeteria workers in our schools interact daily with our children, are disproportionately people of color, and are expected to make do for little. This results in a weak safety net and high turnover. Who suffers most from the job vacancies and revolving doors of newcomers?
The public sector should strive to be a model employer, with equitable and exemplary employment practices. Likewise for the social service entities under contract with the City, many of whom have bloated administrations while paying frontline workers too little to retain a stable workforce.
4. Embrace the use of Big Data and adopt the Social Progress Index here in Philadelphia.
We need better ways to measure human quality of life in each census tract, as our lives and livelihoods rapidly change. Technologists promise enhancements to life. But, will it be true for everyone, equitably? With a more nuanced understanding of how all people are surviving or thriving, we can better collaborate with one another. Communities can be more empowered to advocate. Governments and all institutions can respond with more focused agility to deliver the appropriate support to the right places and enhance resilience. That’s what happened this year in Orange County, California, which utilized their work with the SPI to better target the most vulnerable populations for Covid vaccines.
5. Invest permanently and more robustly in transforming City operations.
Kudos to the City of Philadelphia for investing $10 million over two years into the Operations Transformation Fund, an internal innovation engine for 2022 and 2023. The OTF allows Philadelphia public servants to access grants to pilot smart, collaborative and high-impact innovations to improve public services.
These 11 were selected, including a mobile civil service recruitment project; an equitable community engagement toolkit; and a public safety online portal. But, what about after the pilot? With technology advancing so rapidly, we should invest much more on an annual basis and ensure successful pilots get sustained and scaled.
Better city services, especially for vulnerable children and their caregivers, reduce stress and boost trust in the government’s ability to deliver. In addition, the most forward-thinking employers are now using such innovation strategies to retain and energize talent, modernize and gain efficiencies. We should expect no less from the City of Philadelphia.
Violence prevention and criminal justice are obviously important, and our budget reflects this importance. We need to also put equal energy and resources into healing the traumatic aftermath of the violence. How many children are consistently lacking stability in their support networks at home, at school, during after-school, at their playground or at the health center?
Too many essential support people earn wages too low for their very difficult jobs and then leave care fields altogether. Imagine driving a busload of children, many of whom are traumatized, for about $20/ hour with minimal trauma-informed training? How does it compare to an annual salary of $63,000 for delivering silent, inanimate packages? It is no mystery certain occupations are suffering acute turnover and shortages.
Outside of the National Shrine of Saint Rita’s of Cascia on South Broad Street, there are banners hanging from the light poles declaring Christmas as the time “Love Came Down”. The banners made me wonder, “Where is the Love now?”
We can do better. Prevention should certainly be a part of battling our violence pandemic. But so too should we better see and respond to the traumatic aftermath. How else can we begin the healing and bolster the resilience of grieving people, many of whom are children? While no one knows for certain what the future will bring, many agree a disruptive and perhaps chaotic world awaits our children. Let’s dedicate more energy on healing humans in 2022 and invest to support stronger resilience skills, now and into the future.
Anne Gemmell is the founder of Future Works Strategy, a consulting business focused on future-proofing. She is the former director of Special Initiatives in the City of Philadelphia Office of Workforce Development, where she was responsible for creating strategic plans focusing on emerging technologies, their effects on talent pipelines and actions for “future-proofing” our local economy.
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Header photo by Caroline Attwood on Unsplash