Hearing topic: Does city need its own trauma response system?

Gintautas Dumcius, News Editor
Jun. 27, 2013

The headmaster of the Neighborhood House Charter School is still feeling the effects of the Boston Marathon bombings that killed one of his students and injured another and her mother. Martin Richard, of Dorchester, died from the impact of one of the bombs, while his sister Jane, a first grader at the school, was seriously injured, as was their mother, Denise, the school librarian.

“It’s going to be there in September when we come back,” said Kevin Andrews at a City Council hearing last Thursday afternoon on the impact of violence and the need for a comprehensive trauma response system for the city.

City Councillor At-Large Ayanna Pressley, who has pushed for more resources for victims of domestic and sexual violence as well as homicides, called for the hearing. Pressley said she hoped to use the aftermath of the Marathon bombings to engage with a broader conversation about trauma and its effect on people like immigrants who have come to Boston after fleeing war-torn countries, veterans, families hit by homicides, and survivors of sexual assault, like herself.

“The tragic events of April 15, the marathon bombings, were the impetus for this particular hearing order that I filed,” she said. Pressley deployed the American Psychological Association’s definition of trauma: “an emotional response to a terrible event like an accident, rape or national disaster…longer term reactions include unpredictable emotions, flashbacks, strained relationships and even physical symptoms like headaches and nausea.”

Asked by Pressley how the children are doing, Andrews estimated that 15 percent of the 400 children the school serves are still processing the bombings’ aftermath. The school’s student population includes children primarily from Dorchester, Roxbury, and Mattapan. “We’re going to be better but I don’t know if we’ll ever be completely fine,” he said.

When the school opened its doors a week after the bombings, Boston police officers directed the press and 15 outside counselors were on hand to help teachers talk to their classes, Andrews said. Over 300 people e-mailed or called, offering donations, field trips, and condolences.

But, he added, that there are others at the school affected by violence. He offered the example of a family that lost a father in November. “Martin is dear to my heart…but there are so many kids suffering every day,” Andrews said. “The reality is most of our students do not sleep well at night. Their reality includes hearing gunshots, having police knock on the door…Their reality also includes dealing with varying levels of abuse at home, hardships the result of poverty and living in areas that are not as safe as they could be. One of our biggest obstacles is that this is not uncommon.”

The sentiment was echoed by District 7 Councillor Tito Jackson, who attended the hearing and said the Marathon bombings were a “macro-trauma,” but that there are “micro-traumas” happening in the city’s neighborhoods.

There is a flood of trauma services in the immediate aftermath of such incidents, Andrews said. “And then, what happens…” His voice trailed off.

The hearing also featured testimony from Mothers for Justice and Equality, an anti-violence group, as well as officials from Boston Emergency Medical Services, Boston Police Department’s peer support and stress unit, the Boston Fire Department, and the violence prevention division at the Boston Public Health Commission.