FLINT WATER Focus on Flint: It’s People – their Voices: June 2016

What about the Children?

Editor’s Note: This month we talk to Donna Secor Pennington, a retired school social worker. Although she does not live in Flint, she is the communications liaison for the Michigan Association of School Social Workers (MASSW) and travels to Flint weekly as part of a task force to help with the Flint crisis.

Donna Secor Pennington is frustrated. You can see it in her face and the way she shuffles the countless pages of notes and materials she has in front of her. I show her some of the recent articles on Flint from the New York Times and otherDonna_Penningtonmajor newspapers and magazines. She points to one of them and says, “Look at how much space is given to children — very little. There are 15,000 school age children—preschool through high school who have been exposed to lead.”

Words pour out of Pennington so fast I have difficulty getting it all down. She is passionate and she demands that we listen.

“We talk about the pipes, the failure of the state government at all levels, the difficulty in living without clean water to drink and use but we aren’t talking about the trauma caused by this crisis. Children process this crisis differently from adults. They are afraid-they ask their parents if they are going to die; they ask if they poisoned their younger sister when they gave her a drink of water. They want to know if they are going to be ‘dumb’ when they grow up—they see rashes on themselves and their classmates and don’t know what to do about it,” said Pennington.

Some children already show signs of the effects of lead poisoning –who is helping them? They need help immediately, according to Pennington.” For other children, the manifestations of the poison may not appear until puberty—this is a lasting crisis that affects generations,” said Pennington.

Pennington acknowledges the donations from nonprofits that are dedicated to helping children down the road. “What concerns me is NOW (emphasis ours) — those children need psychological support immediately. There is already a stigma about being from Flint—we need social workers in the classroom and available to help parents and children with the emotional toll of all this,” she said.

Pennington has helped develop an elementary classroom presentation called “When Things Went Wrong with the Water”. Still in draft form, it addresses “the need to present accurate information, allow for expression of experiences and feelings, communicate caring and concern and provide hope”, according to the outline.

“The state government has no real helpful presence in Flint—we social workers are shocked by the inability to get help from the state. We are still operating in a crisis mode, not a response mode — that has to change,” said Pennington.

For more information on how to help Flint, go HERE.

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