A Better Normal: Raising Equity in Support of Youth Social and Emotional Growth
The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the social and emotional needs of children. Mental health has become one of the most critical concerns in Westchester County. There is no doubt that issues of trauma, fear, isolation, and grief have skyrocketed to grave proportions. In addition to the pandemic, recent events and racial unrest have highlighted the sad truth that racism is alive and has also taken a toll on our youth.
The Westchester Children’s Association (WCA) held its annual Advocacy Breakfast on October 18. The Annual Kathryn Wasserman Davis Child Advocacy Lecture was presented by Dr. Kira Hudson Banks, co-founder of the Institute for Healing Justice and Equity at Sant Louis University.
Dr. Banks spoke to the audience of over 100 about supporting the socio-emotional wellbeing of youth and that change must begin with an understanding of equity as “the guarantee of fair treatment, access, opportunity, and advancement while at the same time striving to identify and eliminate barriers that have prevented the full participation of some groups.”
“As youth and children continue to endure altered experiences at home, school and throughout their communities due to the changes in our society from the pandemic, having access to timely, coordinated and quality mental health services is needed to transform the lives of those struggling with mental health related issues. The enduring environment of inequality in our culture not only plays a role in children’s mental health, but it has, in many ways, been exacerbated by the pandemic which exposed many cracks in the system. Those who didn’t have access to the internet and computer equipment, food, medical care, and other life’s necessities, fell behind in greater numbers and their social and emotional well-being deteriorated,” stated Allison Lake, Executive Director of WCA.
During her presentation, Dr. Banks stated, “It is not enough to help one individual or a group to achieve equity. Systemic change is the only way to bring true equity to the millions experiencing inequity on a daily basis. The path to racial equity starts with awareness, then understanding, then transforming the system. This can happen when we use a ‘racial equity lens’ and become proactive rather than reactive.”
She encouraged the attendees, and the various systems they represented – schools, youth bureaus, county departments, mental health providers and others, to raise children as ‘Equity N.E.R.D.S’ – Name what is going on. Educate Yourself. Reframe the situation and leverage your own responsibility. Dream up Solutions. Start problem solving.
“Mental health has become one of the most critical concerns in Westchester County. There is no doubt that issues of trauma, fear, isolation and grief have skyrocketed to grave proportions. As we are collectively recovering and overcoming these hardships, we believe Dr. Banks offered solid insight and advice on how to move forward in our communities,” added Lake.
Dr. Banks co-founded the Institute for Healing Justice and Equity at Saint Louis University, where she is an Associate Professor in the Department of Psychology. Her research, teaching and facilitation around equity, diversity and inclusion have helped to frame racial equity in Ferguson, Missouri and the US. Dr. Banks has studied how racism and discrimination affect mental health and she is known for making complex and controversial topics accessible to all.