Data-Driven, Cross-Sector: Bounce Coalition Boosts Trauma-Informed Change in Kentucky

Student suspension rates dropped. Teacher retention rose. Membership in the PTA swelled from zero to more than 200. More kids said in a survey that there was at least one adult at school whom they could talk to if they had a problem.

The data—a comparison of the Bounce Coalition’s pilot school and one with similar demographics—told the Kentucky resilience-boosting group that they were on the right track.

The Bounce Coalition formed in 2014; the catalyst was a grant from the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky, calling for community-driven, cross-agency approaches to improve child health in the state.

The other six grantees chose to work on issues such as child obesity and exercise. But in Jefferson County—the state’s most populous, with over 700,000 people—professionals from city government, education, physical and behavioral health, the local YMCA and non-profit agencies decided to go upstream.

“We looked at the data on homelessness, on teen pregnancy. That led back to adverse childhood experiences,” says BJ Adkins, co-chair of the Bounce Coalition. “We recognized the strength of cross-sector coalitions, and that it had to be a community-wide effort to make change.”

Initially, the Bounce Coalition focused on bringing trauma-informed practices into schools and after-school programs such as those offered by the YMCA. The coalition provided comprehensive training: everyone from the principal and teachers to aides, custodians and bus drivers.

For an evening program at the coalition’s pilot school, parents could take workshops on ACEs and learn about how to connect digitally with teachers and staff. There were free dinners from Panera and a photographer to take family portraits as a gift to attendees.

“One family came in—a young couple,” Adkins recalls. “She was in her McDonald’s uniform; he had his helmet and knee pads from cutting trees; they had a baby in a stroller and three or four other kids with them. They said [the portrait] was one of the best gifts they’d ever received. It was showing the importance of family.”

A school district evaluator was part of the Bounce Coalition; in contrast to the comparison school and the district as a whole, the pilot school’s numbers looked good—fewer referrals to the principal’s office, more parent engagement. Anecdotal evidence also showed the initiatives were working.

After the first training session with a group of elementary school bus drivers, one participant told trainers about a child who was misbehaving on his bus. “In the old days, he would have suspended him. But they had a conversation, and he found out the kid had been a victim of possible abuse,” says David Finke, a psychologist, vice president of residential services at a youth treatment center and the Bounce Coalition’s other co-chair.

“Instead of kicking him off the bus, he recognized that the behavior may have been an indication of trauma.”

Soon, the Bounce Coalition’s work expanded: from urban Kentucky to more rural counties, and from schools to other settings. After the initial three-year grant ended, the group evolved into an even larger cross-sector learning collaborative. In 2020, Bounce became a program of Kentucky Youth Advocates, which serves as backbone for the group.

Now Bounce provides training, education and resources to a range of organizations, including—thanks to a Jewish Heritage Fund for Excellence grant launched this summer—three of Louisville’s residential treatment facilities for adolescents.

“It’s a train-the-trainer grant,” Finke explains, “and among the participants in the training are going to be young adults formerly placed in those agencies who can become Bounce trainers themselves.”

Before COVID-19, the Bounce Coalition conducted quarterly “grand rounds” presentations, in which someone from a particular sector—say, a principal dealing with a struggling student—presented a case and members of the cross-sector audience could offer questions, ideas and feedback. The events are continuing virtually.

Shannon Moody, who works with Kentucky Youth Advocates as a liaison with the Bounce Coalition, recalls the first grand rounds she attended, in Louisville’s metro government building, in 2019. “I was sitting there, looking at all the folks from different sectors in the same room. It was clear that this was such a need, that there’s such an appetite for more information, more education, more tools” around trauma and resilience, she says.

Finke would like to see the Bounce Coalition engage more with law enforcement, the juvenile justice system and child welfare; he’d like the group to make forays into the business world as well. The coalition now has a policy committee that aims to educate lawmakers on the impact of ACEs.

Meantime, in light of the nationwide focus on racial justice, catalyzed, in part, by the March killing of African-American medical worker Breonna Taylor by Louisville police, two consultants are reviewing the coalition's training curriculum—Intro to ACEs, Building Trauma-Informed People and the two-day Bounce University Train-the-Trainer Program—with an eye toward promoting cultural competence and addressing racial trauma.

The coalition’s victories so far—children who report their “emotional temperature” in morning circle; teachers who say they feel more adept at recognizing and preventing trauma; a membership list of 80 people eager to be involved in Bounce’s work—have given its leaders momentum and hope.

“It’s the power of what we can do as a group, as a coalition,” says Adkins. “It’s the dedication, the commitment and the diversity of the cross-sector people who have formed a bond. It gives me the feeling that we can do almost anything if we work together.”

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