On Tuesday, November 14, 2017, Annalee Gulley, Director of Government Affairs and Public Policy at Mental Health America of Greater Houston, was invited to provide testimony before the House Committee on Public Education.
The Committee considered the following interim charges:
– Recommend any measures needed at the state level to prevent unintended punitive consequences to both students and districts in the state accountability system as a result of Hurricane Harvey and its aftermath.
– Examine the educational opportunities offered to students displaced by Hurricane Harvey throughout the state and the process by which districts enroll and serve those students. Recommend any changes that could improve the process for students or help districts serving a disproportionate number of displaced students.
Ms. Gulley was on one of five panels of invited testimony and shared the importance of trauma training for classroom teachers and the impact transition plans could have on displaced students. Other panelists included Superintendents from Aldine, Alief, Aransas County, Flour Bluff, Katy, Orange Field, Port Arthur, and Sheldon Independent School Districts. Josette Saxton, Director of Public Policy for Texans Care For Children, also provided testimony. This was the last House Public Education Committee meeting of 2017.
Director of Government Affairs and Public Policy
Mental Health America of Greater Houston
Chairman Dan Huberty
Texas House Committee on Public Education
November 14, 2017
Chairman Huberty and Public Education Committee Members:
Thank you for the opportunity to testify today, Chairman Huberty.
Last week, Governor Greg Abbott said, “[T]he invisible wounds left behind after this storm are often the most difficult to recover from. It is crucial that the State of Texas provides our educators and students with all available resources to address mental health needs as quickly as possible.”
Since Harvey hit Houston, Mental Health America of Greater Houston has prioritized the mental health needs of Houston’s approximately 800,000 youths aged 6-17 with supports and interventions that are more important now than ever. Our primary focus has been to provide trauma-informed training to teachers within 27 schools across 10 independent school districts in the Greater Houston Area. We are also advocating for the implementation of transition plans within school districts with a disproportionate number of displaced students to aid in the successful reintegration into the public-school system.
Before the storm, national prevalence data estimated that 10 percent of Texas’ youth will experience an average of three adverse child experiences – or traumas – before the age of 17. With 2 in 5 youths affected by mental health or substance use issues, we know that approximately 250,000 Houston-area students went into the storm with a predisposition to trauma, as trauma affects individuals with mental health issues more severely. Even if you excluded youth predisposed to adverse childhood experiences from the conversation, we are no longer just talking about kids with mental health issues, or “bad kids” or “problem kids.” We are talking about every kid throughout the region.
The psychological reaction to disaster lasts approximately one to three years, with signs and symptoms presenting most frequently three months after the traumatic event. Unlike some affected groups, we know how to access this population and the necessary supports for trauma-affected youth. Teachers are our entry point. They work in classrooms eight hours a day, five days a week. With trauma-informed training, they can properly identify and respond to signs and symptoms of trauma such as inattentiveness, poor academic achievement and difficulty following rules of the classroom. Trauma-trained teachers also will better know how to prepare for triggering events such as heavy storms, the holidays and the first anniversary of a disaster.
State funding will be required for comprehensive, trauma-informed training within public schools. Mental Health America of Greater Houston has been fortunate to partner with private sponsors to provide trauma-informed training, but the funds allocated were not enough to meet the existing need in Harris County – and Harris County is not the only affected county by Hurricane Harvey.
Again, we appreciate the Committee’s time today and the opportunity to bring trauma-informed training and transition service plans into the conversation surrounding Hurricane Harvey recovery efforts. The Governor was right when he said that our hardest to heal wounds would be invisible. That does not mean they should be forgotten. With trauma-informed training and transition service plans, we can provide impacted youth with the necessary supports begin anew.
Director of Public Policy and Government Affairs,
Mental Health America of Greater Houston