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Importance of Trauma-Informed Care Recognized

Trauma is an emotional response to a disturbing event. Shock and denial are common immediate responses. Long-term responses can manifest as unpredictable emotions, erratic behavior, difficulty in relationships, and physical ailments such as headaches and nausea. Recent studies link trauma to increased risk of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, dementia, and early death. (https://www.apa.org/topics/trauma/)

It is commonly recognized that severe trauma can be caused by the horrors of war, severe accidents, serious injuries, or acts of crime. It is less well known, however, that trauma can build incrementally and profound responses may arise from long-term exposures to day-to-day stressors, such as witnessing criminal activity, divorce or family upheaval, abuse, neglect, abandonment, or insecurity in a living environment – food, shelter, or money, to name a few.

When our children are exposed to stressful events, trauma builds and they may not have the tools to process it. This can lead to them acting out in unpredictable ways; a reduction in school attendance; poor academic performance; disengagement from school, family, and community; and anti-social behavior, such as drug, alcohol, and tobacco use, and criminal involvement. Left unchecked, this is setting the child up for an uncertain future if missed opportunities and unrealized potential.

Data shows that attempting to correct undesirable behavior through punishment is largely ineffectual. In fact, punishment may have the opposite effect: it may actually increase negative behavior. But it’s not all doom and gloom. When we recognize the undesirable behavior as a symptom of trauma and address the behavior, but also seek to treat the underlying cause, outcomes are much more positive and long-lasting. This approach is known as “Trauma-Informed Care.”

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (www.samhsa.gov) describe the trauma-informed approach as a program, organization, or system that:

  1. Realizes the widespread impact of trauma and understands practical paths for recovery;
  2. Recognizes the signs and symptoms of trauma in clients, families, staff, and others involved with the system;
  3. Responds by fully integrating knowledge about trauma into policies, procedures, and practices; and
  4. Seeks to actively resist re-traumatization

Programs and agencies within Wayne County, along with school districts have adopted the trauma-informed model and are implementing it to great effect. Although Wayne County is seeing very positive results, the public is largely unaware of the trauma-informed work that is happening in our communities.

The Wayne County Partnership for Strengthening Families (WCPSF) has recently been awarded a generous $15,000 grant from the Wilson Foundation with the sole purpose of highlighting the importance of trauma-informed work within Wayne County and discussing how everyone can be a part of this transformational movement.

With this grant, the WCPSF will provide five school districts with copies of two impactful documentaries that explore trauma-informed care. “Paper Tigers” follows six troubled youth through a year at a trauma-informed school. “Resilience” outlines the very real damage stress causes to body, mind, and social well being; and then explores groundbreaking studies and therapies that aim to break the grip that trauma has upon our most vulnerable population: our children. Each of these movies has the potential to change lives for the better – the lives of our students, our families, and our communities. In the early months of 2019, several public screenings of these films will be held throughout Wayne County. Each screening will be followed by an interactive panel discussion with experts provided by the Family Counseling Services of the Finger Lakes. Later in the spring, WCPSF will host a screening of “Suicide: the Ripple Effect.” This powerful documentary focuses on the devastating effects of suicide and the tremendous positive ripple effects of advocacy, inspiration, and hope that are helping millions heal & stay alive.

In addition to these events, the Wilson Foundation grant will help fund the creation of a county-wide Trauma-Informed Communities email list, and multiple print articles on topics surrounding mental health.

Funds will also be used to provide training to educators and community members. This includes Trauma 101 training for 80 professionals, Youth Mental Health First Aid training for 180 individuals, and The Impact of Trauma on Learning training for four clinicians or Head Start educators.

Jay Roscup, co-chair of the Wayne County Partnership for Strengthening Families stresses the importance of raising awareness of the trauma-informed approach: “Sudden sharp events cause real harm that can be seen on an MRI. It is important that we learn that mental anguish is real and that communities can help heal the harm from those times in life overwhelm us. The first step is moving towards a common understanding of how to build resilience as a safe and supportive community.”

Contact the WCPSF at waynepartnership@gmail.com or visit www.wcpsf.org for more information.

The Wilson Foundation seeks to improve the quality of life through initiating and supporting projects that measurably demonstrate a means of creating a sense of belonging within the family and the community. Founded in 1963 by Joseph C. and Peggy Wilson, the Foundation was formed to address needs in the Rochester community.

The Wayne County Partnership for Strengthening Families is a county-wide collaboration of governmental agencies, school districts, charities, service providers, educators, and non-profits with a common goal of improving the lives of individuals, families, and our communities.


Portrait of family outdoors, close up

In the spring of 2013, the Partnership developed objectives and strategies to address areas of concern as a result of the needs assessment and a strategic planning process. The Partnership organized activities around the three following goals:

  • Increase academic performance
  • Improve behavior health
  • Improve support systems for families

While the Partnership meets as a whole group to align resources, share information and maintain a collaborative spirit among agencies- the real work happens in committee.  Each goal is supported by the work of a committee.

Success So Far:

Education Workgroup:

  1. Has developed a kindergarten readiness questionnaire for parents to complete as they enroll students in kindergarten.  10 out of 11 districts participated in this work and subsequent forums to discuss the data.
  2. The Academic Victory program has grown out of a pilot program in one school to address attendance concerns in grades K-6 to reach across several school districts; participants in the program have demonstrated improved attendance that is sustained even in the following academic year.
  3. A community forum was held to look at career success for Wayne County students and discussion led to concern for students drifting off course in middle school. A Career Carnival is being created as a flagship event that should also lead to more presentations of careers and better relationships between businesses and schools to foster ongoing improvements in career readiness.
  • Behavioral Health:
  1. A draft reference guide for services has been created and will be published to help ensure appropriate referrals for services.
  2. Mental Health First Aide classes have been promoted and delivered across the county.
  3. A bridge between the WCPSF and the Wayne Wellness Coalition has been built so that the two collaborative groups can work together on common goals like fostering prevention work in school settings.
  • Family Resource:
  1. A common Incredible Years flyer has been created and used to promote this evidenced based program. Additional trainings for more instructors have been provided.  Hundreds of parents have been trained and a single data collection point has been created.
  2. Steady efforts to improve the capacity of 211 in Wayne County have been maintained for the past two years. Increasing the utilization of this existing resource will help families find support that is already available.
  3. New collaborations between schools and community agencies that promote pro-social out of school time work are being supported by committee members and will link to the partnership.

Recent Partnership Wide Efforts:

  • Branding the Partnership/Website/letterhead/
  • Recruiting more school participation
  • Sharing data from the Risk and Protective Survey from January/February of 2015

Prior to the start of the Partnership, NYS Grants (21st CCLC and Extended School Day/Violence Prevention) and a Federal Grant (Safe Schools Health Students) were awarded to local schools.  These grants provided technical assistance, evaluation and program dollars for staff that assisted in the development of the Partnership.  The Partnership recognizes the value of data collection for maintaining continual improvement processes and for creating and sharing awareness of community need.

In January 2013, a Sub-Committee was developed for this purpose.  This group led an effort to deliver the Evalumetrics Youth Survey in schools across the county.  The survey is based on Hawkins and Catalono Risk and Protective research.  Nine out of the eleven school districts agreed to participate and the surveys were completed in February and March of 2013.

The K-Ready Questionnaire and the Evalumetrics Youth Survey have been administered consistently through the Partnerships’ efforts.  These data are fueling grant proposals, agency planning and strategic resource alignment across the county.