Chapter Convenes Social Work Community to Discuss Impact of Attack
Anniversary of 9/11 Focus of Forum
On October 2nd, social workers gathered at Hunter College to discuss the aftermath of the World Trade Center Disaster, its impact on society and on the social work profession. The forum, organized by the NYC Chapter in co-sponsorship with the American Group Psychotherapy Association, examined the disaster from several vantage points, with particular attention to the economic toil on individuals and communities and the psychosocial impact of the disaster.
Madelyn Miller, ACSW, Chair of the Chapter’s Disaster Trauma Working Group, moderated the forum. She opened the evening by underscoring the long-term effects of disaster and suggested that grief will unfold for a long time in numerous ways. “We are a community still heartbroken”, Ms. Miller said, “A community of survivors."
Impact on Economy
Panelist Deborah Taylor, MSW, Deputy Executive Director for Policy and Program, the Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies, spoke about economic injustice and called attention to the uneven allocation of funds and services to victims of the World Trade Center attack. The many New Yorkers who lost jobs and income because of disaster are too often unacknowledged, said Ms. Taylor. Referencing a report released in September, by city comptroller William Thompson, Ms. Taylor noted that:
The economic cost to the city from the attacks on 9/11 will total between $83 billion and $95 billion.
The city has lost more than $17 billion in wages.
New York City is down more than 146,000 jobs since 9/11 including a direct hit of 83,000 jobs and an estimated 63,000 that the city would have gained from a recovery from the recession.
The attacks cost the city nearly $3 billion in lost taxes and and nearly $500 million in un-reimbursed expenses.
The decline in New York's economy since September has exacerbated City and State budgetary problems that were evident before the attack on the World Trade Center. As a result of these problems, City and State funding for human services is likely to be severely constrained for the next several years.
Moises Perez, Executive Director of Alianza Dominicana and Milagros Batista, MSW, Director of Alianza Dominicana’s 9/11 and Flight 587 Relief Fund, put a human face on the impact of trauma as they described the devastation of the Washington Heights community which has been dealing with repeated crises. Mr. Perez spoke about the riots in the 1990s that were sparked by police brutality, the impact of a massive hurricane that hit the island of the Dominican Republic in 1998, killing loved ones and destroying the property of many residents of Washington Heights, and most recently, the back-to-back tragedies of the World Trade Center Disaster and the 587 plane crash.
Mr. Perez described the loss shared by the Dominican community, so many of who were connected in some way to someone on the plane. The staff of Alianza Dominicana worked around the clock, reaching out to Washington Heights residents but their work is adversely affected by many factors such as budget cuts to social programs. Mr. Perez also cited the marginalizing of undocumented immigrants as a serious problem.
Ms. Batista, MSW, related several anecdotes about members of the Dominican community who struggle with multiple social problems such as poverty and lack of access to affordable housing. For such individuals, the plane crash and World Trade Center Attack could be too much to bear. One woman, overcome with grief, committed suicide.
“We need a community approach to trauma,” Mr. Perez said, “We need to heal on a community wide basis.”
Keynote speaker Nina Thomas, Ph.D. focused on the psychological impact of trauma. She noted that the experience of trauma is overlaid upon social conditions such as racism, domestic violence, and poverty. Cumulative trauma, causing perhaps the most insidious damage, extends well beyond a single event. We need to listen and be prepared to respond to the emergence of old ghosts that haunt us, she said.
Dr. Thomas cautioned those who work with traumatized clients be aware of over exposure to trauma and emphasized the need for self-care.
During the question and answer portion of the evening, an audience member suggested that one path toward healing, as a nation is to place trauma within a historical context and the reality of our history of oppression, that perhaps, as we grief the tragedy of the Trade Center attack, we can acknowledge and successfully grieve slavery, genocide, and internment.