Children everywhere across this country are confronting trauma on a daily basis. Whether they have witnessed the horrific events on school grounds in Florida or in the streets of Ferguson, Missouri or see and/or suffer from violence at home, children are affected and need our love and support. They also need access to a range of health services.

Right now, we all need to be focused on both healing and action. It is paramount that affected children and adults obtain the care they need in the wake of tragedy or when they are exposed to trauma. Advocates must continue their work to safeguard public coverage programs and access to vital programs that support communities in keeping children healthy and safe. Advocates can also influence state-level efforts to expand children’s access to health services, including mental health services. In addition, health advocates can learn more about brain development, trauma and early intervention strategies that build child and family resilience, integrating this knowledge into their advocacy work. Finally, individuals can take every day simple actions to help children—and communities—build resilience that can protect their health and wellness over a lifetime.

Trauma-Informed Care Is a Call to Action.

During a meeting with health system leaders and advocates this month on trauma and adverse childhood events (ACEs), my colleague from Futures without Violence reminded everyone that trauma-informed care is not simply a service, it is a call to action. The call to action is to provide needed services and supports to those confronting trauma and to design and reimagine our health care systems, schools and child providing sites to be welcoming spaces of healing driven by a set of evidence-based practices that improve health and wellness outcomes.

For children specifically, there are opportunities to better leverage Medicaid in schools, increasing their access to Early Periodic Screening, Diagnosis and Treatment (ESPDT)—the comprehensive set of services that help children meet developmental milestones. Thanks to the reversal of the free care policy, states may use Medicaid funds to expand access to covered service in schools. Schools can use this policy opportunity to expand access to mental health services and supports, including important screens like Screen, Brief Intervention, Referral to Treatment (SBIRT) and other early intervention tools serve as an early warning system for mental health and substance use issues. We continue to work alongside advocates to promote increased access to mental health services for children and youth in the school setting in addition to an expanded role for schools in the health care delivery system—guided by a trauma-informed approach. Schools are vital to our children’s health and wellness, at times providing children with the only space to feel safe and supported. This makes school tragedies even more horrific, requiring decision makers to assist schools in healing and providing needed health services.

We Can Make a Difference.

As most of us are simply onlookers to the tragic events in Florida, Missouri, Connecticut and Nevada – to name a few – it can feel overwhelming with no clear set of next steps. However, there is critical advocacy work at all levels of government.

As advocates, we can engage in this work in diverse ways, including by learning more about how trauma-informed approaches to care and Medicaid priorities intersect. For example, West Virginia advocates recently published a report on adverse childhood events (ACEs) that offers recommendations on how to integrate trauma-informed principles into policies and programs. Futures without Violence recently released a state policymakers guide on how to integrate trauma-informed principles across multiple sectors that serve children and youth. Finally, Community Catalyst is working with partners on the ground in Tennessee and North Carolina to better align health and human service partners, using trauma-informed care as a core strategy for integration and alignment.

Care for Others.

As individuals, we can rethink the way we treat and engage with one another. Changing Trauma, Changing Minds is a national campaign spearheaded by the Department of Justice and Futures without Violence. They offer five things an individual can do to support children experiencing trauma. They include the following concepts: celebrate, comfort, collaborate, listen and inspire. You can learn more about these simple gestures here and you can use them starting now.

Even as we develop our policy and advocacy agendas to protect and advance a prevention agenda, we can live our advocacy each day in how we treat others.