Chance The Rapper announced that he would donate $1 million to the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) system. The announcement is big news, and hopefully will be followed by real action on funding our schools. What is the best use of this sudden windfall? I would argue that at least some of the money should go to support CPS clinicians.
When it comes to student trauma and sexual violence, the numbers speak for themselves.
In my global issues class, we read about an 8-year-old child bride and her escape from her husband. Brian asked, “Some of the daddies in the article had their daughters marry these guys to clear their debts. Is it ever OK to sacrifice one family member to save the rest?”
Linda, a quiet girl, uncharacteristically shot her arm in the air and responded: “You’re saying it’s OK to let some grown man rape your 8-year-old daughter because you can’t get your money in order? That’s wrong! Let’s get real—how many of y’all have been raped or touched or whatever in your lives?”
Shockingly, Linda, 14 other girls and four boys raised their hands. That’s 19 kids, which amounts to 74 percent of my class.
When I asked Mr. Garza, our social worker, what we could do for my students, he told me that they could sign up for his next available 10-minute slot. He was booked solid for more than four weeks. Appointments start as early as 7:00 a.m. (an hour before school), and go until 6:00 p.m. (more than 2.5 hours after school).
“I prioritize those in the most violent, urgent situations first. I’m one person with 24 hours in a day and 1,200 students. My interns for the year are gone,” he told me. During the two months when Mr. Garza had interns, he was able to run support groups for students dealing with gangs, drugs or parental divorce, but those internships were short-lived.
Sex crimes are underreported, but estimates suggest that up to 70 percent of children raised in low-income neighborhoods face some sort of sexual violence before the age of 22. The best we had to offer these kids was 10 minutes with Mr. Garza in his closet-sized office a month too late. Ignoring the shootings, drugs and gangs that students living on the South Side of Chicago also face, the number of students requiring help from sexual victimization alone is staggering.
As Linda waits four weeks for her 10-minute visit, students in more affluent communities have fully-staffed social work departments. Deerfield High School, for example, has at least seven full-time social workers, a social work department chair, a social work intern, several assistants and program leaders, and a secretary in their social work office.
Meanwhile, there is simply no comparison in the level of violence or trauma between the two communities. This is not to say that more affluent students don’t deserve high-quality social work departments. But don’t students who experience such staggering amounts of sexual trauma deserve even more services than those in safer and more structured environments?
CPS budget cuts, layoffs and a shortage of services set our children up for a plethora of obstacles in overcoming trauma. It is time we shine a spotlight on the crippling mental health crisis our students face. Mr. Garza and his colleagues need our help. For starters, universities should work with schools like ours that have a desperate need. Perhaps then CPS could set up multiple partnerships, providing four-eight interns on a constantly rotating basis. And perhaps some of the funding realized through Chance’s generous donation could go toward supporting clinicians in schools that are most in need.
Brian and Linda agreed: Kids need help and schools should be providing it. Clinicians in our schools are necessary. How can students who face so many challenges receive so little support? Supplying a steady stream of interns and traveling support groups to schools with high percentages of traumatized students is one way we can assist schools. While a short-term solution, it is a step in the right direction for understaffed clinician offices.
We need to preserve remaining CPS clinicians while adding any help we can provide. We must fight for additional long- and short-term counseling services if we want to break the cycle of trauma. When I told Linda about her upcoming brief appointment, her response was, “Well, it’s better than nothing.” We simply must do better than “nothing.”