Creating Change for Young Male Survivors of Violence

“I wish that people like me had come and talked to me when I was young,” Malik Ali comments as he reflects on his own experiences growing up in Richmond, CA, where violence was pervasive and supportive role models were few. As a young person, he struggled in school and was in and out of the juvenile justice system. Today, his perseverance and resilience to overcome the obstacles of his youth are gifts that he draws upon to reach young men like him. “My goal is to serve as a role model, mentor, and counselor,” he remarks.

Ali is one of four clinical case managers hired this year as part of the Young Men’s Empowerment Collaborative (YMEC). The YMEC is a partnership between the West Contra Costa Unified School District, the California School-Based Health Alliance, Bay Area Community Resources, the YMCA of the East Bay, Catholic Charities of the East Bay, and other community-based organizations. The collaborative aims to increase educational and health equity for boys and young men of color who have experienced complex trauma stemming from community violence and crime across five schools in Richmond, CA, by meeting the following goals:

  1. Create a supportive school climate for young male survivors of violence by enhancing restorative, trauma-informed systems of care and strengthening the ability of school staff to recognize trauma survivors, respond effectively, and refer them for appropriate services.
  2. Increase the portion of young male survivors of violence who are identified and served by expanding screening and outreach.
  3. Create an effective response to violence through the use of evidence-based interventions in school-based health centers to help boys and young men of color at school.

    Malik Ali (left) and Shawn Baker (right) serve as YMEC Clinical Case Managers with the YMCA of the East Bay.

Nearing the end of the first year of implementation, the YMEC cultivated relationships with nearly 300 young men of color on school campuses. 43% of these students reported experiencing high exposure to traumatic events, like community violence. Subsequently, they were referred to the YMEC Clinical Case Managers, like Ali, and invited to participate in young men’s groups that focused on helping them understand and address their trauma and grief. The groups also provided these youth with skills to cope during stressful, triggering moments and connected them with others who may share similar experiences.

In reflecting on the impact that the YMEC has already had, Ali adds that the collaborative has increased resources and supports for students to cope with their stress and triggers. “Students now have a space that they can go to when they are feeling overwhelmed and a person who they can call on day or night and will listen to them without judgment.”

Funded by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office for Victims of Crime.

Moving Forward, No Matter What

School-based health care providers and those who advocate for the well-being of children and teens help hold our community.

This election has been a particularly divisive time, and as you work to care for students and their families, we will continue to support you and your work. We will work hard to uphold the gains we have made and build on them.

There is some really good news to share: the following key ballot measures passed that will provide critical support to our school children.

  • Proposition 55 will raise billions every year to fund K-12 schools.
  • Proposition 51 will bring in billions to fund school renovations and facilities upgrades.
  • Proposition 56 will tax tobacco sales and bring in extra revenue for Medi-Cal.
  • Proposition 57 will decrease the ability to try juveniles as adults in court.
  • Local soda tax measures prevailed in communities in the San Francisco Bay Area.

These are all wins for promoting student health and success in our state and we are hopeful that school-based health services will benefit from these new sources of funding.

We still don’t know what this week’s presidential election will mean for the federal policies that have improved the lives of children and families in our state.

Let’s remember that emotions may be running high among families of the children whose lives are changed by school-based health services. Students in our schools are fortunate to have you to help them address any possible stress. And again, as you support them, we are here to support you.

We will not back down from our commitment to helping communities across California bring access to mental and physical health care for all students at school, no matter what.

#Health4All Brings Us Closer to Health Equity

By Lourdes Bernal
Lourdes at work

Lourdes helps parents understand eligibility for expanded Medi-Cal.

Getting health care has always been a battle for undocumented, low-income Californians. It has always meant waiting until the last minute to visit a provider, and trying to downplay pain and discomfort from illness or injuries.

The parents of undocumented children work extra hard to pay bills and put food on the table, and many young people are conscious of the added stress of paying for health care. Many undocumented children minimize care to maximize their family’s security.

Thanks to legislation enacted in 2012, many young people have become eligible for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), which is a program that allows undocumented young people to be employed legally and be eligible to receive Medi-Cal, our state’s Medicaid assistance program for low-income Californians.  This helped a lot, but many young people who were ineligible for DACA were still left out.

This year Medi-Cal expanded to include all income-eligible children and youth under 19, regardless of immigration status. This historic expansion provides thousands of kids in California with access to previously restricted care. 

At the California School-Based Health Alliance, I work closely with schools in the Bay Area to spread awareness about this opportunity so more parents can enroll their kids in coverage. My goal is to create a pathway to access for the many students who feel  that health care is not an option for them because of the cost and because of where they were born.

I am proud I can help parents understand there are options for their children to access health care, and that doing so does not come at the risk of financial burdens, or worse, separation and deportation. I take pride in sharing new options for coverage with parents who are sacrificing so much so their children can thrive. 

Free resources on expanded Medi-Cal:

This outreach is personal to me because I understand the vital importance of having access to care. I’ve seen how access provides you with the opportunity to live better in this place we call home.

I am also proud to be working in partnership with school-based health centers because, in addition to providing vital access to care, they give children and youth a safe space to be themselves without fear. School-based health centers are an important part of an education system that makes it possible for young people to dream, thrive, and succeed.

I believe in expanded Medi-Cal and #Health4All because I know that California is stronger when we are all healthy.

Lourdes Bernal is the Communications Program Assistant at the California School-Based Health Alliance and is helping schools educate parents and students about expanded Medi-Cal for all kids.

How Supreme Court Ruling Affects Health for All Kids

Health4AllKids-HHH-SBHCs-largeThe United States Supreme Court on June 23, 2016, issued a 4-4 split decision on President Obama’s executive immigration actions known as Deferred Action for Parental Accountability (DAPA) and the expansion of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).

This leaves in place a lower court decision that blocks the implementation of these executive orders.You can read more about what this ruling means by reading statements from The California Endowment and the National Immigration Law Center.

School-based health centers have always been committed to providing health care for all students, regardless of immigration status. The California School-Based Health Alliance stands behind the work that all of you do to keep everyone in our state healthy and ready to learn. We will continue to advocate for health security for all children and families in California.

Today’s ruling does not affect the 2012 DACA program or California’s recent Medi-Cal expansion to undocumented children. We continue to ask schools and school-based health care partners to join us in sharing information on Medi-Cal for all kids in California.

  • You can download customizable flyers that you can print or post on your school’s website here. These flyers meet the state’s requirements for AB 2706, which requires schools to include information about health coverage at registration.
  • You can get more information and resources here.

You can see our health coverage outreach resources here.



A Note on Violence Affecting Bay Area Youth

By Juan Taizan

health-center-graffiti-450In the last two weeks three young men have been murdered in Richmond in the Bay Area. Xavier Mclanahan, 14, Malik Barnes, 15, and Joshmahl Russell, 21, were all shot to death, their lives ending far too soon.

While we did not know these young men directly, they were a part of our community through the school-based health centers and partners we know in Richmond. Their deaths also touch a nerve because of our work to support young men of color who have experienced violence.

I can’t help but feel frustration as I struggle with the question of what more any of us could have done to prevent these tragedies. It also makes me feel overwhelmed at how much more work we have to do to prevent future violence and death. It is important for us to take some time to pause, to reflect on the lives of these young men, to understand the pain of their loss, to feel the joy they brought to their friends and families, and to envision the lives they could have lived if they had more support and opportunity.

It is important that we take all of our feelings and remember this is why we do our work. School health staff regularly support young men and women who face the same challenges of Xavier, Malik, and Joshmahl. SBHCs and school health services play an important role in not only helping youth be healthy and succeed; they help many youth stay alive.

We have to continue to advocate for school health. We have to continue to find resources to help every young person who needs support. We have to continue working to honor the lives of every young person we have lost and to honor Xavier, Malik, and Joshmahl.

You can read more about Juan’s experiences helping students and schools through school-based health on the CSBA blog: Invest in Health to Improve School Climate & Student Engagement (Omar’s Story).

New Voices Bring Promise to Childhood Adversity Challenge

By Serena Clayton

This post originally appeared on The Chronicle of Social Change.

At the Center for Youth Wellness policy convening on childhood adversity recently, I kept asking myself if we were having a new conversation or an old conversation but with different people at the table.

The fact that children who experience adverse events (e.g., domestic violence, or a mentally ill or incarcerated parent) have worse health outcomes hardly seems like news. In public health, we know that environmental, economic, and social factors lead to health disparities. In education, we know that poverty is connected to lower achievement, and there is a strong correlation between poverty and adverse childhood experiences (ACEs).

To address ACEs, new “trauma-informed practices” are moving the focus off of “fixing” individuals to understanding their experiences and building resiliency and safe, supportive environments. All of this sounds a lot like youth development, protective factors, and strength-based approaches.

There is no doubt that we are seeing some of the same ideas come back in a new package. But something is different now, and it is the very fact that different people are at the table. The concept of childhood trauma has succeeded in uniting various sectors in a way that I have not seen before.

Juvenile and criminal justice advocates see themselves in this issue because so many youth who have experienced trauma end up in the correctional system. Educators have a stake because childhood trauma shows up in the classroom in the form of poor attendance, behavioral challenges, or learning difficulties.

Even the health care industry is beginning to take note. We now have not only epidemiological evidence of the impact of social stressors on health, but also biological evidence. ACEs or chronic stress raise the level of cortisol in the body which affects many physiological processes and, ultimately, increases the risk of poor health outcomes. Just like poor diet or physical inactivity, ACEs are a risk factor that can to increased health care costs down the road.

As a public health professional with 20 years in various aspects of adolescent health, I am encouraged by the way that new science is creating new bedfellows. The concept of adverse childhood experiences provides an explanation for so many outcomes in different sectors: health disparities, the achievement gap, multi-generational poverty, cycles of violence.

As a school-based health advocate, I am intrigued by the possibilities. How can school-based health providers best use their unique position at the intersection of health and education to respond to childhood adversity, or to prevent it in the first place? As health care (slowly) begins to take prevention more seriously, what approaches to childhood trauma could become part of pediatric care or patient-centered health homes?

As educators strive to improve school climate, what alternatives to suspension will become standard practice? How can the public health and educator sectors support criminal justice reform as a health issue? And how can justice reform advocates help increase resources for health and education?

Thank you to the Center for Youth Wellness for a thought-provoking day. I look forward to our next steps!

Serena Clayton is the Executive Director of the California School-Based Health Alliance.

Safety, Justice, Equity, & Our Work in School-Based Health

By Serena Clayton

This post originally appeared on the Voices for Health Equity blog.

On November 4, 2015, I attended “Smart on Safety,” an invitational summit to examine how California can reform the criminal justice system and transform communities to prioritize prevention over punishment.

As Adam Kruggel, Director of Organizing for PICO California, stated, “mass incarceration creates a legitimacy crisis for some of our most deeply held values – that everyone has a right to be a human being.” Harsh sentences, three strikes, mandatory minimums, racial profiling, gang injunctions, and transfer of juveniles to adult courts have demonized poor black and brown males as less deserving “others” – predators who are beyond redemption.

Anyone who works in marginalized communities knows the toll that these policies take on the health and life prospects of their teen patients. Although one would hope that the appalling scene in South Carolina is not the norm, it has been well documented that black students are three times more likely to be suspended than white students. Suspension is a gateway to dropout, economic instability, crime and incarceration. And we don’t need to look only at teens to see how “tough on crime” affects children’s health. Tamir Rice, a 12 year old who was playing with a toy gun in a park, is dead. The children of Eric Gardner and Walter Scott are fatherless. Approximately 2.7 million children have a parent in prison – a vastly disproportionate number of whom are poor and black. Millions more children experience post-traumatic stress disorder from extended exposure to violent encounters between citizens and law enforcement in their communities.

Speakers at Smart on Safety celebrated the one year anniversary of the passage of Prop 47, a huge step forward in turning the tide on mass incarceration. That this victory took place in California was significant. California has been among the states with the dubious distinction of leading the nation in mass incarceration. Prop 47 changed nine felonies to misdemeanors and gave thousands of low level offenders the opportunity to be resentenced, released, and have felonies wiped off their records. With this law, California takes on a new role as a leader in the national outcry against punitive policing and correctional policies that demonize communities of color.

As a professional from the worlds of health and education, I often felt like a fish out of water at this gathering of activists for social justice, racial equality, and criminal justice reform. But I appreciated the opportunity to attend and understand how our work in school-based health connects with this broader movement.

At this meeting schools were mentioned frequently as a key element in reversing our priorities so that we invest in prevention rather than in punishment. We heard calls for increased school funding, improved school climate, changes in school discipline, reduced school policing, and improved mental health services.

Jeff Rosen, Santa Clara’s district attorney, pointed out that many of today’s offenders were victims earlier in their lives. If we did a better job of attending to the needs of victims, might we have fewer offenders down the line? What school experiences would help children and families who have been victims of violence heal, stay engaged in school, and graduate?

School-based health centers have a critical role to play in this picture. They are part of a movement to transform education to encompass the support, the environment, and the services that students need to enable them to stay in class and concentrate on learning. For many students this includes approaches that address the trauma they experience as victims or witnesses to violence. I am proud that we are working with school-based health centers in Oakland and West Contra Costa specifically on this issue and hope that we can find more ways to strengthen the role of school-based health in promoting safety and justice.

Serena Clayton is the Executive Director of the California School-Based Health Alliance.