United States Senator for North Dakota Heidi Heitkamp has teamed up with Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Al Franken (D-MN), to unveil their effort to create legislation to fund trauma-informed health care across the country. The bill is titled the Trauma-Informed Care for Children and Families Act. While the senators will assist to bring their efforts nationwide, Senator Heitkamp says she will be focused on how trauma impacts Native children and communities.
In a telephone conference on Tuesday, Senator Heitkamp said the bill would create opportunities for multiple organizations across the country—such as law enforcement, education, workforce professional and health service providers—to learn why it’s critical to address and help to reduce the impacts of trauma on children, particularly those in Indian country.
Dr. Jacqueline Gray, Ph.D. (MHA Nation) who has worked for 30 years in trauma-related health issues, including the University of North Dakota Center for Rural Health for Indigenous Programs in Grand Forks, says the lack of culturally-based, trauma-informed resources and approaches have hampered the ability to help families in Native communities.
“Trauma experiences increase the morbidity and mortality of acute and chronic health problems. integrated culturally relevant trauma-informed programs are a tremendous start in addressing these problems. the need for culturally and trauma-informed trained clinicians to address these issues in rural and tribal areas is important. There are less than 300 Native American psychologists in the United States.
“It is important that agencies families and providers work together better to address these needs as opposed to these individual disjointed approaches.”
Jodi Duttenhefer, the Operations Director at PATH ND (a non-profit organization based in Bismark that provides foster care, adoption, and family-based services) said that Heitkamp’s bill would enhance efforts in North Dakota and nationwide, and that the legislation is a huge step in addressing the need for collaboration of state and federal agencies.
“It’s going to take all of us working together,” said Duttenhefer.
One woman named Jess, who had adopted five Native children said the police and teachers lacked any information on adequately dealing with abuse and trauma. She also suffered from having to pay expenses on her own.
“This is generational abuse, we have an amazing opportunity to really change the course of abuse and trauma for Native American children,” said Jess.
Another woman who asked to remain anonymous said her daughter suffered from trauma said that no matter the intentions, it is not realistic to expect to just love children into care or into a normal childhood just is not possible. She said that realistic trauma-based care was critical.
“The thirty minutes a week with Tami, [Psychologist Dr. Tami DeCoteau, Ph.D. a Bismarck-based clinical psychologist specializing in trauma-informed care] have been a godsend,” she said.
Senator Heitkamp ended the conference call and told the two parents of children impacted by traumatic experiences that they were heroic.
In a direct interview with Senator Heitkamp, she told ICMN there are many reasons to support the legislation.
What is your intention with this legislation?
Senator Heitkamp: I want to find some way that we can be hopeful that things change. I honestly believe that if we, number one, stop trauma, which is absolutely critical and we still have to deal with what I call generational trauma. We also have to understand there is a whole new science emerging as a result of more research being done which can look at additional techniques for treatment.
The earlier you can get the treatment, the more beneficial that outcome, long-term.
What can Indian country do to help?
We want to hear about success stories.People don’t believe it when I talk about this.People think that I am selling some sort of elixir. But people who have studied it and looked at it really see the incredible opportunity when we confront this problem.
Who are some good advocates?
I think pediatricians have probably been the best advocates for dealing with childhood trauma because they realize how much chronic disease for children is embedded in high stress. When you put kids under high stress, not only do you affect their ability to learn, and their flight or flight mechanisms, you can also make them sick.
Kids get sick from stress.
What are some red flags?
When I talked with Indian Health during a hearing, I said that I had wanted to speak with someone who could talk about generational trauma, trauma-informed therapy and literally they said to me, “We don’t know about that.”
I thought, “Wow, we are dealing with some of the most traumatized generations of people, and when you talk about this trauma, what is more traumatic than genocide?”
Then you have the social genocide that went with boarding schools and with the loss of language and the loss of heritage and you look at the work now that is being done. It just seems like that we have a real opportunity to embed this kind of therapy and treatment that we know can work.
It’s not getting any easier.
In August 2016, Senator Heitkamp hosted the first-ever U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs field hearing dedicated to addressing the detrimental impact that traumatic events can have on tribal communities, particularly on Native children.