Bill would provide aid for young trauma victims

Bill would provide aid for young trauma victims

Dave Boitano

Rob Bonta wants mental health services for youths who have experienced depression and violence. Contributed photo.

In an age of increasing violence, one East Bay legislator is sponsoring a bill that would help students affected by trauma.

Assemblyman Rob Bonta, D-Oakland, has authored AB 174, which would expand mental health services for youths who have experienced depression, post traumatic stress disorder and other problems as a result of shootings and gang violence. If approved by the legislature, AB174 would fund individual, group and family counseling, violence prevention programs, and training for teachers in identifying student trauma.

Bonta’s bill, which cleared its first major hurdle when it passed an Assembly committee on April 9, provides for a variety of programs through the state’s school based health centers, which now provide clinic-style health care to mostly low-income students on high school campuses.

Though some centers offer counseling, there is no state funding specifically earmarked for mental health and trauma. The Affordable Care Act - known to most as Obamacare - includes $50 million for the nation's school-based health centers, but the money has not yet been included in the federal budget.

Seventy-five schools leaders - including Superintendent Kirsten Vital - signed an April 10 letter calling on Congress to include the funding in the 2014 budget.

"SBHCs serve as a vital access point for primary and mental health care for students who otherwise would go without," says the letter, from the National Assembly on School-Based Health Care. "Studies demonstrate that adolescents are far more likely to come to SBHCs for mental health services than to other community providers."

Twenty percent of kids from families earning $25,000 a year of less feel somewhat unsafe or very unsafe in their neighborhoods, compared to fewer that two percent of youths who come from homes with an annual income exceeding $125,000, according to KidsData.org. U.S. Census data show that 14 percent of children in Alameda live in families that earned incomes below the poverty line.

African American and other young boys of color have more than twice the risk of witnessing domestic violence, being abused or neglected or having one parent who is in jail or state prison, the bill states; homicide is the leading cause of death among African American males, at a rate of 15 times higher than Caucasians. Some 11.6 percent of Alameda Unified's students in 2011-2012 were African American, according to information on the Ed-Data website.

School-based health centers are the logical sites for trauma counseling because they already deliver health care to adolescents effectively, Bonta and the bill’s backers point out. More than 80 percent of the clients seen in Alameda County school clinics between 2010 and 2011 had seen violence or been a victim of it during their lifetimes.

Bonta, who joined the Assembly in December after two years as Alameda's vice mayor, said he introduced the measure as part of his agenda to aid education and in response to a number of traumatic incidents like the mass shootings at Columbine High School in Colorado in 1999.

Alameda Family Services and Oakland-based Native American Health Center run school-based clinics at Alameda, Encinal and Island high schools, where they provide free medical, dental and behavioral health services to students. California schools host about 200 of the centers, which serve more than 200,000 youths.

The bill does not carry a specific price tag; it says grants will become available to schools only when funding is available from the state Legislature, federal or private sources. Bonta said he introduced it now to ensure a system is in place when funding is ready.

“We wanted to get the process started,” he said.

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