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Our Why

At Voices, we believe that all young people deserve the opportunity to thrive. Yet an entire generation of young people in Virginia are facing an urgent, growing mental health crisis. According to the 2022 annual school climate survey from the Virginia Department of Education and Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services, a stunning 64% of high school students reported feeling “nervous, anxious, or on edge;” 53% of students reported feeling unable to stop or control worrying; 40% of students reported feeling “sad or hopeless for two weeks or more;” and 13% of students reported having seriously considered attempting suicide. In 2021, half of middle school students reported feeling “nervous, anxious, or on edge,” and 10% of middle school students had seriously considered attempting suicide.

We urgently need statewide policy solutions to the youth mental health crisis, yet we cannot move forward with creating policy change until we grapple with the root causes of youth mental health struggles--and with our own healing. Our 2023 summit is intended to explore solutions to Virginia's youth mental health crisis through the lens of Healing Centered Engagement.

In 2019, Voices’ Summit on Childhood Trauma and Resilience helped “trauma-informed care” to gain traction statewide, from local community service networks to the halls of the statehouse. This important approach has paved the way for healthier social climates in Virginia’s public schools, a more restorative juvenile justice system, and improved trainings for child-serving professionals. Trauma-Informed Care Networks have been very successful in spreading awareness, conducting trainings, and supporting and implementing new practices in schools, courts, and community services. TICNs play a key role in advancing trauma-informed policy statewide.

Yet the pandemic and the national racial reckoning demand that we evolve our understanding of trauma-informed care and its limitations. Dr. Shawn Ginwright, a nationally renowned scholar and youth development expert, argues that trauma-informed care is incomplete because it presumes trauma to be an individual experience rather than a collective one. The youth mental health crisis, and its complex causes, is a collective experience, with ripples throughout families, schools, neighborhoods, and entire regions.

Dr. Ginwright proposes a new approach, one that builds upon trauma-informed care but seeks to address root causes of trauma in families, communities, and schools. “Healing centered engagement” offers a holistic approach to trauma that shifts our focus from pathology (trauma) to possibility (well-being). We are thrilled to bring Dr. Ginwright to Virginia as our keynote speaker and to join hands with partners in both healing and demanding a better Virginia for our young people.

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