In June 2017, the Health Federation of Philadelphia’s Leslie Lieberman participated in the National Governors Association’s expert roundtable, Establishing the Building Blocks for Lifelong Health and Success: Supporting States in Advancing Multi-Sectoral and Multi-Generational Solutions to Improve Children’s Lives. In preparation for this roundtable, Lieberman solicited input from the ACEs/trauma/resilience networks participating in the MARC learning collaborative and colleagues from both the ACEs Connection Network and the Campaign for Trauma-Informed Policy and Practice. The fo
When Suzanne O’Connor first joined the Philadelphia ACE Task Force (PATF)—a group then composed mostly of pediatricians who wanted to put ACE science into practice—she did more listening than talking.
“I wasn’t a doctor, I wasn’t a clinician, but a teacher trying to integrate trauma-informed care into early childhood education,” she says. “What struck me the most was what educators didn’t know about social services, mental health and even physical health. We didn’t have language for what we were seeing with kids who were particularly challenging.”
ACEs gave O’Connor that language. She became a passionate advocate for trauma training for early childhood and K-12 teachers. Now, as director of education for United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey, O’Connor is helping trauma-informed practice to ripple across the region.
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Ann Marie Healy used to travel around Pennsylvania talking to community members about “smart” land use planning. Through her work with 10,000 Friends of Pennsylvania, a non-profit devoted to revitalizing cities and towns, “we would meet with people to share what we had learned about how to approach planning in a more strategic manner.” In one small town, residents questioned the relevance of the pitch. “Isn’t what we’ve learned locally just as important as what experts have found works elsewhere?” they asked. The experience taught Healy that expertise and local ingenuity are not mutually exclusive and that language matters.
For Emily Griffey, policy director of Voices for Virginia’s Children, some small print in the bipartisan budget act passed by Congress last February was cause for celebration.
The legislation, known as the Family First Prevention Services Act (FFPSA), was the first significant reform of child welfare financing in a generation. And unlike previous federal funding, which helped maintain the foster care system through subsidies for room, board and other services, the new law pays for prevention.
The funds, which come with a 50/50 match of state dollars, will provide reimbursement for up to twelve months of mental health services, substance use treatment and in-home parenting skills training—in short, the family-strengthening ballast that can keep children out of the foster care system in the first place.
“If we invest in prevention, if we make parents the strongest possible parents they can be, they can help buffer any stresses their kids do encounter, and give children the most solid foundation for any trauma they encounter in their lives,” Griffey says. “[The legislation] gives us some resources we don’t always get to unlock for parents.”
What’s more, the FFPSA notes that all services must be trauma-informed.
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The MARC initiative was recently highlighted in Volume 2 of the Trauma-Informed Philanthropy series created by the United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey, the Scattergood Foundation, and Philanthropy Network Greater Philadelphia.
Amy Moseley, community coalitions manager for Children’s Trust of South Carolina, had worked with mothers and babies in maternal-infant health care and with children in foster homes, with victims of sexual assault and individuals with disabilities. She’d noted how poverty and other adversity unspools over the lifespan, how health disparities can persist through generations.
Learning about adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) “was seeing the thread between all the areas I had worked in. It made me want to turn my focus to prevention,” she says.
For Moseley’s colleague Aditi Srivastav Bussells, research and community impact manager for Children’s Trust, the ACE study “really reframed public health,” shifting the emphasis from personal risks and behaviors to “things that are often outside of the individual’s control.”
Now the two, with support from Children’s Trust senior leadership and an innovative use of federal child abuse prevention funds, plan to select, support and guide three community coalitions around their state—each with the charge to develop a locally-specific, action-based, cross-sector plan to prevent child maltreatment and boost family well-being.
Brad Lohrey, sheriff of Sherman County in Oregon, likes to tell about an older man who summoned an ambulance about once a week, usually in the middle of the night.
When the 911 calls ended abruptly, Lohrey asked his deputies if they knew why. “One of the deputies told me that he started stopping by the gentleman’s house before going off shift. The deputy told me that spending five minutes stopping and talking with the person caused the person to no longer need the ambulance. The gentleman just wanted somebody to talk to.”
For Lohrey, that’s a vivid example of the power of trauma-informed policing, a concept this second-generation sheriff now embraces. Lohrey, a 26-year veteran of law enforcement whose father was also Sherman County’s sheriff, attended a 2016 Trauma and Resiliency Summit at the urging of a member of the Resilience Network of the Gorge, a cross-sector collaboration that grew from MARC funding.
There, Lohrey learned about the Adverse Childhood Experiences study and the long reach of childhood trauma. It changed his mind about policing. “I think the way we do it now is wrong because we just arrest people because we have nothing else in our toolbox to fix the problem,” he said in July 2017. Lohrey began requiring all his deputies to attend at least one MARC-funded training on ACEs, trauma and resilience.
During a December 2017 convening in Philadelphia, several leaders from Mobilizing Action for Resilient Communities (MARC) realized they had more in common than a passion for building resilience in their communities.
They all hailed from places that had recently been scorched or flooded by natural disasters: wildfires in California and the Columbia River Gorge, hurricanes in Florida, the lingering residue of 2012’s post-tropical cyclone Sandy in the Northeast.
“We had this new commonality: our communities were in turmoil,” says Holly White-Wolfe of Sonoma County ACEs Connection. “We knew we needed a trauma response—not just sensitive to the physical disaster, but to the emotional experience. We said, ‘Maybe we should all get together and come up with some ways of helping communities cope.’”
Guadalupe Mendoza used to drop off her kids for pre-school, then make a quick and silent retreat.
“I hid away,” says Mendoza, mother of five children aged 18 to 5; all but the oldest attended the Head Start/ECEAP (Early Childhood Education Assistance Program) at Walla Walla’s Blue Ridge Elementary School. “I didn’t allow myself to have a connection with the staff.”
Three years ago, Mendoza began volunteering with the pre-school. Then she attended a moms’ group. Still, she shied away from the Parent Policy Council, a group of Head Start/ECEAP parents and community members who review budgets, help make program decisions and plan events.
“I thought it was not going to interest me. Executive stuff: it sounds scary and intimidating,” Mendoza says. But other parents and staff encouraged her. “I realized: Oh, my voice counts. I realized how much of an impact [the Parent Policy Council] has. This year, I ran for president.”