Two representatives from Chicago’s Choose to Change (C2C) program shared their experiences with reporters during a news conference yesterday announcing new bipartisan legislation to increase support for children who have been exposed to Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and trauma, such as witnessing violence, parental addiction, or abuse. The news conference was hosted by U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) and U.S. Representative Danny Davis (D-IL-07).

Durbin and Davis are urging their fellow lawmakers to support the RISE from Trauma Act (Resilience Investment, Support, and Expansion), which would help to build the trauma-informed workforce and increase resources for communities to support children who have experienced trauma.

Raquel Kid, a C2C mentor, said the program helps young people understand personal trauma and how it impacts decision making. Kid explained how C2C combines Children’s Home and Aid’s trauma-informed cognitive behavioral therapy with Youth Advocate Programs (YAP), Inc.’s intensive mentoring. C2C began in 2015 and has served approximately 500 youth aged 13 to 18, living in greater Englewood neighborhoods and has recently expanded to serve communities on Chicago’s West side. The University of Chicago Crime Lab is conducting a rigorous evaluation and preliminary results indicate program participation leads to a dramatic decrease in arrests.

Tuesday Nelson, 20, spoke of how the support she received as a C2C participant provided skills, guidance and resources that continue to help her manage her emotions and make decisions that more positively impact her life. Nelson was one of the program’s first participants. An aspiring hip-hop artist, she is now working a day job and writing and performing at competitions.

“As we work to address the root causes of violence, we need to focus on the impact that community violence and other traumatic experiences have on children,” Durbin said.  “In the long run, unaddressed trauma can impact mental and physical health, school success, income, employment, and can contribute to a continued cycle of violence.  Our bill recognizes the ripple effect that trauma can have and seeks to provide our children with the support to address their emotional scars.”

Nationwide, nearly 35 million children have had at least one traumatic experience, and nearly two-thirds of children have been exposed to violence. A 2013 study conducted in Chicago communities most impacted by violence found that among 15- to 17-year-olds, one in five witnessed a fatal shooting firsthand.

“A recent Government Accountability Office requested by Senator Durbin and myself details the profound, lasting impact of the trauma inflicted on our children by the pervasive climate of violence in our society and reaffirms that the impact of this violence goes further and deeper and persists even more malignantly than has been generally acknowledged,” Davis said. “This bill provides support for children who have been exposed to trauma. The bill is both a next step in addressing that trauma and, we hope, a catalyst for an ongoing reorientation of how we as a nation, view and address this epidemic.”