Social injustice. Systemic racism. Racial inequity. These terms and concepts are everywhere. And they should be.
Achieving equity is essential to fulfilling our country’s promise to its residents. We applaud those who are paying attention and taking steps, within their organizations and within themselves, to recognize and address these issues. To accomplish real change, however, will take more than equity committees, diversity teams and vocabulary adjustments. These are only tools to help us point the way.
Our professional lives are devoted to children — keeping them safe and healthy, and helping them to heal. Research shows that children who experience individual trauma (Adverse Childhood Experiences, or ACEs), or community trauma (adverse systemic experiences) are impacted in significant ways, both immediately and into adulthood. Trauma left unhealed passes from one generation to the next. In our world, we see real children whose lives are altered by intergenerational and historical trauma, poverty, racism. We owe it to these children and to the entire next generation to face these issues head-on — in the words of National Youth Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman, “to compose a country committed to all cultures, colors, characters and conditions of man.”
So what needs to happen to truly impact our institutions so today’s youth will be better off tomorrow? How do we make real change?
∙ We must ensure that equity-focused efforts are more than lip service — that we invest in them the soul, the strength, the power and the money to make real changes.
· Diversity within organizations must go beyond mere numbers — it must include intentional shifts in power and norms. Managers with equity in their titles must have enough authority to impact real change.
· And perhaps most important, we must not rely on someone else to do the work. It’s imperative that each and every one of us do the hard work that’s necessary to build an equitable future where all children can thrive.
Such changes are difficult. But there are bright lights of hope within organizations doing concrete and challenging work. Three local organizations are making real strides:
· Childhaven serves children and families in King County who have experienced adversity and trauma, including racialized trauma. Leadership and staff are taking concrete steps to transform from a historically white-dominant organization to one that is multicultural, inclusive and anti-racist. This includes transitioning to a whole-family and community-embedded approach, taking services directly to children where they live, learn and play. In addition, Childhaven’s work broadens the frame of adversity to acknowledge the systems of oppression and systemic racism that create toxic stress for young children and their caregivers.
· Empire Health Foundation’s work in health equity in Eastern Washington focuses on investing in programs to support under-resourced children, families and communities. In Spokane County, American Indian/Alaska Native children are 2.5 times more likely to be removed from their homes and placed in foster care than their white peers. Working with the wisdom of tribal partners, EHF’s treatment model joins traditional Indigenous practices with Western healing models. This integrated model transforms and preserves Indigenous families and includes healing practices developed over tens of thousands of years by Native communities.
· CHOOSE 180, based in Burien, was formed to combat the disproportionate policing, prosecuting and incarceration of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and people of color) youth. Instead of being criminalized for their behavior, youth are offered community instead of a courtroom through an intervention and diversion program of workshops that couple testimony from people with similar backgrounds and peer-to-peer sharing. The goal is to help youth see themselves as a possibility to be developed and not a problem to be solved, to help them change their behavior. Ninety percent of youth in CHOOSE 180’s diversion program do not return to the criminal legal system within 12 months.
By incorporating real equity policies and actions — and by learning from the organizations that do — we can reduce the historical and institutionalized trauma impacting so many children today. Focusing on children now and changing the trajectory of generational trauma will have an exponentially profound impact into our future.