Category Archives: Child welfare
David Olds, PhD, is founder of the Nurse-Family Partnership, a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation 40th Anniversary Force Multiplier that provides maternal and early childhood health programs for at-risk, first-time mothers. He is a professor of pediatrics at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, where he directs the Prevention Research Center for Family and Child Health.
When I finished my undergraduate degree in Baltimore in 1970, I went to work at an inner-city day care center, hoping that I might help poor preschoolers get off to a great start and have a better chance of succeeding in school and becoming productive, healthy citizens. But I soon realized that for many children in my classroom, it was already too little, too late. One little boy had been exposed to alcohol during pregnancy and was pretty profoundly developmentally compromised—he couldn’t communicate with words. Other children were being abused or neglected, so it was clear to me that parents’ prenatal health and parenting behaviors were part of the solution for low-income children.
I would have been out of touch, however, to think that all that was needed was for parents to do a better job of caring for their children. Our center was in a poor, inner-city neighborhood, where poverty, crime and a lack of adequate housing were undeniable influences for families. It was clear that parents wanted the best for their children, but their own personal histories and the social and material stressors weighing on them often made it really hard for them to protect themselves and their children. And this was happening in countless communities across the country.
On April 27, 2011, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Ladder to Leadership: Developing the Next Generation of Community Health Leaders program graduate (2009-10) Beth Albright Johns, M.P.H., assistant vice president for Early Childhood Initiatives and Education and the Success by 6 program at the United Way of Central Alabama, watched as much of her hometown was destroyed by tornadoes. While helping her friends, neighbors and colleagues in any way that she could, Johns also focused on her primary role, finding ways to protect the emotional health of the children affected by the tornado.
On April 27, 2011, the largest outbreak of tornadoes in the history of our country hit the southeastern United States and my home state of Alabama. Living in my part of Alabama, I am used to severe weather, but the 27th felt different. The day started with a sense of foreboding, but given our weather history, worrying about it was out of character. In our community, a warning of severe weather generally means watching experienced meteorologist, James Spann, roll up his sleeves and get down to business to help us prepare. So that April day, we tuned in only to watch Spann struggle to maintain his composure as the tornado destroyed Tuscaloosa. I became more and more alarmed as I watched it devastate the communities of friends, colleagues and other neighborhoods where I work and tear through my hometown of Birmingham. Numbing disbelief set in as Spann said, “Oh my God, take cover…it’s out of control.”
The next day, April 28th, the community sprung into action. Our boardroom became the statewide 2-1-1 help line headquarters. Calls poured in from people asking for assistance or asking: “What can I do to help out?” Over 13,000 citizens registered through Hands On Birmingham and 2-1-1 to assist with the clean up and recovery. Pallets of clothes, water, generators and people from all over the country arrived to help. While trying to help others, my co-workers were also searching for loved ones and focusing on our job—protecting the mental health of children affected by the storms.
We immediately went to work with local agencies to advocate for mental health assessments for post-traumatic stress disorder among the kids.