On September 26, thanks to grant funding from Loudoun Non-Profit grants, the first Trauma-Informed Community Network (TICN) meeting was called to order at HealthWorks for Northern Virginia in Loudoun County and facilitated by SCAN. The Loudoun community has been making great strides in integrating trauma-informed care in the community and SCAN is excited to help steward collaboration between organizations and expand trauma awareness work in Loudoun. As the Loudoun TICN continues to move forward in a shared commitment towards the creation of a more trauma-informed and resilient community, there is something for everyone to contribute to and gain from the network.
At the inaugural meeting, the group dove right in and collaborated on a series of impactful opportunities and workgroups to benefit the Loudoun community, including:
1. Community asset mapping opportunity: This resource sheet was a collaborative document developed by the team to house the variety of resources that the Loudoun community can offer to its members 2. Loudoun TICN immediate gaps/needs/priorities within the community workgroup collaborative: The SCAN facilitator asked the TICN to collaboratively identify what are areas within our community that we can identify as areas of need? How can we shine a trauma-informed lens on these gap needs? 3. Workgroups and coalitions currently functioning in Loudoun County: The TICN identified workgroups currently doing trauma-informed work in the Loudoun community that may be represented or should be represented at the trauma network. 4. An opportunity identifying the Loudoun TICN membership: This activity identified our strength as a trauma-informed collaborative. It also identified Loudoun sectors that were TICN members and asked the question: Who do we need to reach out to so that we are all-inclusive to the entire community?
SCAN looks forward to collaborating with the Loudoun community and continuing to support impactful trauma-informed work, grow and effect change, and serve Loudoun County.
The next Loudoun TICN meeting will be held on November 28th from 9:30-11:00 am at HealthWorks of Northern Virginia. Interested in attending? Please contact us!
Earlier this month, SCAN held an all-day workshop focused on parental trauma, mental health challenges, and substance use and their impact on children and families. With support from the Northern Virginia Health Foundation, we hosted nearly 100 professionals and advocates to learn more about how trauma relates to mental health, alcohol and substance use and violence—and most importantly, what we can do to best support families facing these challenges in our community.
Thanks to a diverse group of speakers and panelists—ranging from CPS workers to health center executives to therapists at addiction treatment centers—we laid a groundwork for what comes next in our efforts here in Northern Virginia.
At the end of the day, five core messages had emerged from the dialogue between our experts and the audience:
1. Know that trauma is more common then we think. “If someone is in need of services,” challenged Dr. Brian Sims, “we need to assume that trauma exists in their lives and exercise ‘universal precautions.’” He shared that our initial question should not be, “What’s wrong WITH you?” but, “What happened TO you?” As we work with families, we need to foster a mindset that is trauma-informed. We must be familiar with the prevalence of Adverse Childhood Experiences (or ACEs) and their impact on emotional problems, health risk behaviors, social problems, diseases and disability, personal health, and even poor life expectancy. 90% of public mental health clients have been exposed to trauma. In Virginia, only 15% of people dealing with the trauma of opioid addiction are accessing treatment.
“That’s a lot of moms and dads [dealing with trauma],” noted Genevieve King from the Leesburg Treatment Center. As professionals, we need to keep our minds open to the possibility of trauma in a parent’s lifetime.
“In treating trauma, all behavior has meaning,” added Dr. Sims. “Sometimes the answers aren’t that complicated, but we do need to keep our minds open.”
2. End the stigma around trauma and its symptoms. Oftentimes, “it’s not so much the trauma,” noted Bill Connors, a lead therapist at Dominion Hospital. “What perpetuates the trauma is the shame around it.” If a pregnant mother is addicted to opioids, for example, she may be ashamed of her addiction and not seek help—even it puts her baby in danger. If a father was sexually abused as a child, he may feel shame and not deal with the trauma, which puts his own children at risk of trauma.
“Stigma brings down self-esteem and the self-efficacy of the person being treated,” noted Francisco Soto-Castillo with Loudoun County DFS. “Stigma creates anger, frustration and often leads to non-compliance.”
3. Begin with respect and focus on engagement. “Respecting a parent’s life circumstances and culture” is key, noted Carol Jameson, MSW, the CEO of Healthworks for Northern Virginia. It’s harder for these parents to stay engaged because of the trauma and challenges in their lives.
“We explain to folks what we’re going to be doing – that this is a partnership,” said Jameson. “We’re not judgmental. We’re not dictating. We’re motivating THEM to make the decisions about what they want to do.”
“We need to focus on accepting individuals where they come from,” added Soto-Castillo. “It’s about really understanding their experience and having compassion. We can’t impose our personal values…we’re trying to explore where the client is coming from and why.” In the end, this judgment-free approach is the best way to empower them to make changes in their lives.
4. Build knowledge and build up hope. Dr. Sims reminded the audience that the training would not just be about ACEs and trauma–it’s about hope and resiliency, too.
“It’s important to empower parents through education and information,” noted Soto-Castillo. When parents learn about things like child development and resiliency, the can feel empowered to make changes that will benefit their children.
“Treating parents is not just about stopping substance use, for example,” added Dr. Glenda Clare. “It’s teaching parents how addiction impacts families, how to build coping skills, and so on.”
When we teach parents that they can teach their kids resiliency skills, it can be powerful, especially for parents who may feel paralyzed by their own trauma and challenges. Giving them basic steps—such as setting a simple evening routine or providing 8 times more praise then correction—can build up their toolbox of parenting skills. But it takes real work on the part of service providers, noted The Resiliency Network’s Heather Peck Dziewulski:
“Teaching resilience takes ACTION. It’s something we do purposefully. And it creates hope for children who have experienced trauma.”
5. Get out of your silo. “Too often we put parents in a box that is very hard to get out of,” said Johanna Van Doren-Jackson, with Infant-Toddler Connection of Loudoun. These parents will need teams of professionals and advocates who can help them make changes. And in order to do that, we must get beyond our silos! Parents are more likely to engage when they know dealing with their trauma and challenges is part of a team approach; encouragement from a primary care doctor can be especially helpful.
“Talk to someone in a different discipline,” suggested Dr. Glenda Clare. “Know others’ work and experiences with children and families. Our clients need us to know each other’s resources and build relationships that can help them.”
As guests prepared to wrap up the discussion for the day, it was clear that the topic of trauma and its relationship to substance use and mental health must continue to be addressed by the community. There is a hunger for resources, cooperation and support as we move forward serving children and families affected by these challenges.
Some good places to start based on discussions at the training:
As a leader in the prevention of child abuse and neglect in Northern Virginia, SCAN is dedicated to educating the community about the scope, nature, and consequences of child abuse and neglect. The separation of immigrant parents from their children after they have crossed the U.S. border “is a form of child abuse,” said Dr. Colleen Kraft, president of the American Academy of Pediatrics. SCAN is deeply concerned about the traumatic experiences immigrant children and their families are enduring as a result of this separation and the lasting effects this will have on these children’s health and development.
Trauma occurs when a person is overwhelmed by events or circumstances and responds with intense fear, horror, and helplessness. Potentially traumatic events can include separation from a loved one, surviving a war zone or refugee experience, enduring abuse and neglect, exposure to violence, or the effects of poverty. Children’s exposure to traumatic events and prolonged stress due to trauma can damage the developing brain of a child and lead to negative health outcomes in adulthood such as diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, and cancer. Traumatic experiences can also lead to difficulty learning, impaired memory, poor attachments, difficulty sleeping, anxiety, depression, and an inability to control physical response to stress.
While the potential harmful effects of trauma are serious and alarming, children can heal if they have safe, stable and nurturing support. Parents, family and supportive adults can help children heal by building their resiliency, or their ability to “bounce back” after negative experiences. Some ways to build resiliency in children include:
Create a safe environment that meets children’s basic needs. This includes safe housing, nutritious food, appropriate clothing, access to good health care and education.
Establish and maintain consistent routines to help children feel safe.
Help children identify their feelings and manage emotions. Maintain open communication where fears and worries can be discussed openly.
Build supportive social connections with friends, family, neighbors, or faith groups.
Care for yourself. Parents and caregivers should model self-care and recognize and seek help to manage their own traumatic experiences.
Calls to Action—2 ways you can help immigrant children and families:
Volunteerwith or donateto organizations directly serving the families involved in this crisis, such as the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES), the largest immigration nonprofit in Texas that provides free and low-cost legal services to underserved immigrants (https://www.raicestexas.org/); the Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights, which advocates for many of the separated and unaccompanied children (https://www.theyoungcenter.org/); or Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center, which provides legal representation to low-income immigrants and families seeking reunification (http://las-americas.org/).
Have you explored our trauma informed care resources for parents? You’ve heard us talk about this topic from a direct child services perspective (see our blog post here), as well as an advocacy perspective (such as this blog we re-posted from Voices for Virginia’s Children) as it relates to legislation. But how do we change whole organizations to better serve individuals who have experienced trauma?
We’ve developed a helpful new resource that can get you started. Trauma informed organizations make a commitment to understand trauma, how to respond to trauma, and how it affects those they work with. Being trauma informed is an organizational cultural change. We hope you’ll download our Trauma Informed Organizations fact sheet, and let us know how your organization is making changes in 2018. We also recommend you learn more at:
This week, I had the honor of co-presenting a day-long workshop entitled The Cost of Caring. It is a workshop designed by the Trauma-Informed Community Network in Fairfax County. The workshop focuses on human service providers and not just to provide resources and guidance, but to give them a chance to leave work behind and do kind things for themselves. The workshop allows them to take the time to complete various self-inventories on compassion satisfaction, compassion fatigue, practicing intentionality, and determining the amount of self care practiced at work and at home.
It is vital that human service providers have a basic understanding of cumulative stress, burnout, and secondary traumatic stress. They are actually quite different but can affect us in similar ways. Treating the source of the stress is perhaps more important than simply treating the symptoms. This workshop also focuses on resiliency, what it means to be resilient, and how to use resiliency to combat the effects of stress. This can include strengthening our personal and professional connections, changing our perceptions, and practicing self care.
Vicarious trauma. Compassion fatigue. Secondary traumatic stress. Burnout. These are all things that those of us working in helping professions experience. There are some similarities between the four but there are also many differences. Recently, over 80 “helpers” shared a day together, learning about everything from the basics of trauma to how to cope with the effects of the daily struggles we face working in such a vulnerable field. Knowing more about the environment we work in is half the battle to remaining balanced and effective.
Chrissy Cunningham, MSW the Prevention Coordination Specialist from the Fairfax County Department of Neighborhood and Community Services presented Trauma 101, emphasizing the importance of understanding trauma and the need for positive relationships to manage the effects of trauma.
Allyson Halverson BS, CCLS, CTP a Certified Child Life Specialist I at the Pediatrics Department of Inova Loudoun Hospital talked about the various traumas children are faced with in a hospital setting and how trauma can lead to fears and phobias into adulthood.
Lori Wolkoff, Victim Specialist – Washington Field Office and Barry E. Moore, Unit Chief, Child Victim Services Unit shared their experiences in the FBI Victims Assistance Program and the coordination and care needed for victims of varying traumas and experiences.
John Walker, Ph.D., LMFT with the Family Connections program at Loudoun County Department of Family Services ended the day with a humorous and vulnerable discussion on Compassion Fatigue.
For highlights of the day including links to speakers and resources, visit our Storify page here.
In recent weeks, children and parents across the country have faced hurricanes and wildfires. Families in some cities have seen racially-motivated violence on their streets. Just this week, a school in Washington state was the site of another mass shooting. When a child is affected by events like these, what can we do to help? Knowing how to define trauma is an important first step. We define trauma as a deeply distressing or disturbing experience that may overwhelm a child’s ability to cope, and it’s important to note that there is a wide continuum of experiences that might qualify, from sexual abuse to natural disaster to food insecurity.
By understanding what trauma is, we can begin to understand trauma’s impact as well as how we can respond to trauma experienced by our community’s children. We’ve published a series of new tools and collected a few other excellent resources to support you in this work:
Last month, Voices for Virginia’s Children published an important blog post about state-wide collaboration and its impact on children who have experienced trauma. They shared three states we can watch for best practices and policy, and we’re re-posting their thoughts today as we continue the discussion about Trauma Informed Care (listen to our recent radio show on the topic) here in Northern Virginia:
Local and regional Trauma Informed Community Networks (TICNs) across Virginia are bringing partners together from local government, schools, and services providers to transform their approaches to working with children who have experienced trauma. Their goal is to work across silos, develop a shared framework, coordinate resources, and innovate new approaches to caring for children and families. Voices is considering how state-level policy approaches could strengthen this work at the local level. To help facilitate this conversation we researched state-level approaches to trauma-informed policy efforts in three other similar states- Wisconsin, Tennessee and South Carolina. While Virginia is strong in partnerships and interventions at the local/regional level, these states are farther along in elevating the issue to the state level and, in turn, using that platform to strengthen local networks.
Here is what we found most interesting about these three state-level approaches:
Training in Trauma-Focused Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy for a wide variety of practitioners.
Expanding the “Resource Parent” curriculum for foster parents and birth parents.
Systems- change efforts focused on transforming practices and policies. For example, in this area, the First Lady’s initiative supported an organizational assessment of trauma-informed practice.
Leadership: The work is coordinated among various departments but there is no one state lead. The closest is the Steering Committee for the First Lady’s initiative made up of high level government officials and stakeholders from outside of government, such as pediatricians and philanthropy.
Funding: The total budget is about $1.6 million which is primarily used to support he training for providers and parents. Localities apply to participate and determine which models they would like to utilize. Some of the initial funding came from federal Promoting Safe and Stable Families funds. The state has also added general funds.
On October 5, SCAN—with support from LAWS (Loudoun Abused Women’s Shelter) and its Loudoun Child Advocacy Center—brought together 129 local human service providers to hear Dr. Chris Wilson talk about The Neurobiology of Trauma.
This relatively new approach allows those of us who work with children (including law enforcement, school staff, social workers and foster parents) to rethink not only how we question children but also about how we process the information that a child is giving to us.
With more than 20 years of experience in the neurobiology of trauma, vicarious trauma, victim behavior, how to be trauma informed, and group process, Dr. Wilson has worked with a wide variety of audiences and is currently a trainer for the United States Army’s Special Victim Unit Investigation Course, Legal Momentum, and You Have Options Program.
Dr. Wilson reminded those of us attending that defining trauma looks something like this:
extreme fear/terror/horror + lack of control/perceived lack of control = very real changes in the brain at the time of the incident and after the incident
When a child experiences something traumatic, the pre-frontal cortex becomes impaired, meaning “we lose the ability to control our attention, integrate data, and make logical decisions” and the hippocampus is directly affected, thus affecting how a child remembers the traumatic event. This direct physiological impact must be taken into consideration not only when we first interact with children who have experienced a traumatic event, but also in how we continue the relationship with the child and how the child heals from the event.
Key training takeaways:
We must remember that trauma is subjective because threat is subjective. It means different things to different people and therefore, every individual’s response to traumatic events vary.
Children overwhelmingly blame themselves because of their egocentrism – it’s the only context they have.
Victims from 9/11 have given us a “map of danger” that didn’t exist before.
It’s not the relationship that is abusive, it is the perpetrator; we need to say “she was raped”, not “she was victimized.”
Use “soft eyes” not “hard eyes” when talking to children who have experienced trauma. Make the conversation about feelings to help the child recall specific facts that may have otherwise been forgotten or repressed.
This valuable training would not have been possible without the support of our funders: Loudoun Child Advocacy Center, Northern Virginia Health Foundation, Ronald McDonald House Charities Greater Washington DC and LAWS Loudoun Abused Women’s Shelter. Thank you!
At SCAN, we strive to bring quality training and workshops to the region and to YOU at your place of work or your local community organizations. Continue to follow us to learn more about what we are doing in the community to prevent child abuse and neglect – and how you can become involved and empowered to help.
– Tracy Leonard, Public Education Manager, firstname.lastname@example.org