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Children's Voice Article, September/October 2002

Executive Directions

by Shay Bilchik

September. It has a different resonance now, and, as is the case with world wars and the turn of centuries, we will now divide time into the years before and the years after September 11, 2001.

This year, we mark its first anniversary.

Watching our nation continue on after that day, and then deal with ongoing threats, war, and an economic downturn, we saw the remarkable resilience of the people in New York City; Washington, DC; and every part of the country.

Resilience is something those who work with children know well. Any teacher, foster parent, or social worker can tell you stories of brave and resilient children whose few years have been burdened by more tragedy, pain, and disappointment than anyone should bear in a lifetime. It's easy to marvel at how well kids seem to bounce back. But new research coming out of Columbia University in New York indicates that children and adolescents may not be as quick to heal as we once thought.

Studies of New York City public school children performed six months after the attacks showed many were still experiencing post-traumatic stress, depression, anxiety, sleep disruptions, and difficulty concentrating. This study indicates that the children in New York, and perhaps nationwide, need more counseling and assistance to deal with what they witnessed or saw on television last year. (See page 27.) It may also provide more evidence that abused, neglected, and vulnerable children need much more than our systems currently provide to truly heal and go on to reach their full potential.

In many ways, the country has bounced back from last September--the final bits of debris have been cleared from Ground Zero, the facade of the Pentagon is whole again, and the economy is showing hints of renewed strength. The images and emotions of that day are still painfully fresh, however, and true healing may take many more years. So too, we watch children and teens start to bounce back after being removed from a bad home situation or finally finding a permanent placement after a string of foster homes. But resilience is not the same as recovery.

This September, we also mark the 13th annual observance of National Alcohol and Drug Recovery Month--a time during which we celebrate individuals and families who are recovering from substance abuse. Alcohol and other drug use is one of the primary reasons families become involved in the child welfare system, and it's often a factor in homelessness, involvement in the justice system, and domestic violence.

At the core of Recovery Month is the recognition that healing is tough, and those with drug and alcohol addictions need the constant support of family, friends, and mentors, as well as treatment professionals, to stay sober. Although more resources are still desperately needed to fully fund prevention and treatment programs and reach everyone who wants help, the treatment community has long recognized that recovery is a lengthy process. It's a tenet we should extend to the services provided to our nation's vulnerable children. In a child welfare system that doesn't always have the resources to meet children's most basic needs and ensure their safety, it's difficult to imagine finding the means to provide children with the wrap-around services they need to fully recover from the abuse, neglect, poverty, violence, and substance abuse they have witnessed or experienced, but that must be our goal. We must redouble our efforts to provide the programs and resources needed to reach out to every suffering child and support his or her long-term healing.

There's no question that children and adolescents are resilient, but the assistance provided by our existing systems is often a temporary balm at best. Recovery is a long process that requires a higher level of support and resources. We owe it to our children to make sure they have the programs and services to not only bounce back, but to land surely on their feet.

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