Erwin McEwen, the former Director of Children and Family Services, has dedicated over 20 years of service to families in Illinois. Since leaving office in 2011, McEwen remained out of the political spotlight. Now, the Chicago native uses his voice to help identify and address trauma in the Black community. In collaboration with the human service organization, Habilitative Systems Inc., McEwen is working on the West Side of Chicago to build a network of trauma centers of care.
“We’re trying to get agencies in our communities to recognize trauma and the impact it has on our families. The issue is everyone wants to talk about trauma, but no one wants to address it,” says Erwin McEwen.
The former Illinois DCFS director shared a candid discussion about trauma. The conversation was focused on complex trauma. Something McEwen says people of color struggle with the most. “Complex trauma usually happens in the family,” says McEwen. “We measure trauma using Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs).”
According to the CDC, 61% of adults have reported having at least one type of ACEs. Adverse Childhood Experiences include child abuse or violence in the home or community. ACEs can have long-term adverse effects, like chronic health problems, mental illness, and substance abuse in adulthood. Erwin McEwen says Adverse Childhood Experiences also affects our social cues. “You have to understand that trauma changes the way we relate to the world,” says McEwen. “It impacts our social cues.”
McEwen exampled police interactions with young Black males. He pointed out that if a young person is dealing with heavy trauma, they are likely to misinterpret social cues, which then affects their interaction with police officers or other authority figures in the community. “Any authority agency that comes into the community to provide human services, are likely to have social miscues. This impacts the results of the services the families receive,” says McEwen.
Another trauma the former director says needs to be addressed is economic trauma. “When you look at it from a historical standpoint like Tulsa. There is a great deal of economic injury, says Erwin McEwen. When you are in poverty, and you try to fight your way out, some systems can push you back into poverty. The visceral reaction from the system against Black success is economic trauma, and nobody is talking about that.”
When asked if he believed the curse of slavery is the root of trauma in Black families, Erwin McEwen said, “After slavery, a lot of African-Americans families were reconnected, many families included two parent homes. There was a lot of recovery from slavery but events like the Tulsa riots, Jim Crow, and the KKK reversed that. Then the federal government passed the legislation called ‘Aid to Dependent Children Act.’ That legislation said Black fathers could not be in the home if the mother were to receive federal aid. After that, you begin to see the number of single Black mothers rise. So, I can’t entirely agree that all trauma is the ‘curse of slavery”, because there was a lot of recovery from slavery, but every time they see former slaves or Black people pull themselves up. It’s attacked.”
Erwin McEwen can be contacted via email by clicking here.
Ali Bouldin is a freelance writer focusing on Black and Hip-Hop culture with featured articles in multiple publications. Follow his Instagram @Ali.Bouldin.