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Gov. Candidate Wes Moore Outlines Policy Priority

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Dr. Melissa Buckley, Wes Moore and Councilman Zeke Cohen (center table, left to right) at a policy roundtable Monday. Credit: Sarah Y. Kim/WYPR

Wes Moore, who is running for the Democratic nomination for governor in next year’s election, says one of his policy priorities would be creating a “trauma-informed” administration.

“You cannot understand anything else that's taking place within the state of Maryland without understanding the role that trauma is playing,” Moore told a policy roundtable Monday.

“Trauma informed care” is an approach to healing that requires being able to recognize and respond to trauma, without retraumatizing people and communities.

Moore, an author and social activist and the former host of WYPR’s Future City, wants Maryland to be “a national leader in trauma informed care.”

Dr. Melissa Buckley, an assistant professor of social work at Coppin State University, said when it comes to trauma-informed care, the “healing” is critical -- and that making trauma-informed care a statewide practice is an urgent matter.

“Anybody who aspires to be involved in city or state government needs to be very clear that they will be committed to including a trauma informed lens in their administration,” Buckley said.

Moore said as governor, his administration would use trauma as a “lens” for tackling public safety, as well as “everything from education, to housing to transportation” and economic growth.

“It's important that all of our institutions, all of our thinking, our entire policy mindset, entire policy lens, is really seen and understood with that as our framework,” he said.

Part of “trauma informed care” means understanding that trauma is widespread and pervasive, and that it can even have long term effects on a person’s physical health and brain structure.

It also means understanding trauma and violence as cyclical.

Moore said violence can take many forms -- beyond what’s physical and immediately visible.

“Whether it's emotional violence, psychological violence, the violence of watching people close to you deal with battles of addiction, as I've had to do multiple times in my life...that type of violence also cannot be cannot be understated either,” he said.

Moore spoke of how his own experiences inform his understanding of trauma.

“I watched my father die in front of me right before my fourth birthday,” he said. “I felt the feeling of handcuffs on my wrists by the time I was 11 years old.”

Baltimore became the first major city to legislate trauma-informed care with the Elijah Cummings Healing City Act, which former Mayor Jack Young signed into law last year.

Councilman Zeke Cohen, a District 1 Democrat, sponsored the bill after shootings at Frederick Douglass High School and Holabird Academy within two months of each other.

Moore said students were not given the time or resources to heal.

“We had a mass shooting outside of a school where children are literally dodging for cover,” he said, referring to the Holabird Academy shooting. “And then the next day, we're back at school, as if nothing happened.”

Since Cohen’s bill became law, city officials and employees, and various agencies have been undergoing trauma-informed care training so that they can better understand and respond to and heal trauma in their communities.

Cohen said trauma-informed care must go beyond Baltimore City and become a statewide effort.

“Some of our rural jurisdictions face even more adverse childhood experiences and trauma than Baltimore does and yet don't have the resources,” he said.

And Cohen said in the face of what everyone’s dealt with this past year, adopting trauma informed care as a strategy is more urgent than ever.

“We are dealing with a true mental health crisis here in Maryland, and especially coming through this global pandemic, where everyone's mental health, my own included, has been tested,” he said.

Next year’s gubernatorial race will be the first since 2014 where Gov. Larry Hogan will not be running.

Correction: The audio story refers to a shooting at a “Baltimore high school,” leading up to Wes Moore’s quote about Holabird Academy, which serves elementary and middle school students. 

Sarah Y. Kim is WYPR’s health and housing reporter. Kim is WYPR's Report for America corps member, and Anthony Brandon Fellow. Kim joined WYPR as a 2020-2021 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The GroundTruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. Now in her second year as an RFA corps member, Kim is based in Baltimore City.