• Tarpon Springs, FL, first trauma-informed city, embraces messy path toward peace

    APeace4Tarpon

    Tarpon Springs, Florida, once known as the nation’s sponge-fishing capital, today boasts a new designation: the first city in the country to declare itself a trauma-informed community.

    It isn’t that the 24,000 residents of the scenic Gulf Coast town know more than the rest of us about emergency room techniques, spend their time crunching spreadsheets of violence data or watch more episodes of “America’s Most Wanted.”

    Being a trauma-informed community means that Tarpon Spring has made a commitment to engage people from all sectors—education, juvenile justice, faith, housing, health care and business—in common goals. The first is to understand how personal adversity affects the community’s well being. The second is to institute resilience-building practices so that people, organizations and systems no longer traumatize already traumatized people and instead contribute to building a healthy community.

    Beginnings: a goal to stop violence

    The journey officially began in February 2011, when the Tarpon Springs City Council signed a memorandum of understanding to marshal the community to address and prevent childhood and adult trauma.

    The results have been profound. Trauma-informed practices have been implemented in small and large ways in a variety of organizations, including an elementary school, an ex-offender re-entry program and the local housing authority. The Pinellas County Department of Health recently decided to incorporate in its Community Health Improvement Plan a goal of providing trauma-informed information in all of its county health facilities.

    “Once you bring the community into it, you just don’t know how it’s going to grow,” says local artist Robin Saenger.

    “She listened,” says Saenger, “and then said: ‘You’re talking about a trauma-informed community.’” Blanch explained how many of the issues facing Tarpon Springs—homelessness, domestic violence and substance abuse—stemmed from childhood adversity. And the Peace4Tarpon Trauma-Informed Community Initiative was born.

    “My belief is that trauma is universal,” says Saenger. “Everyone’s experienced trauma in one form or another, and usually does on a regular basis throughout the course of a lifetime,” whether that stems from being in a car accident, witnessing domestic violence or having a loved one with substance abuse problems. And everyone is affected

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  • Mindfulness protects adults from physical, mental health consequences of childhood abuse, neglect

    Aeye2Fact #1: People who were abused and neglected when they were kids have poorer physical and mental health. The more types of ACEs (adverse childhood experiences) – physical abuse, an alcoholic father, an abused mother, etc. – the higher the risk of heart disease, depression, diabetes, obesity, being violent or experiencing violence. Got an ACE score of 4 or more? Your risk of heart disease increases 200%. Your risk of suicide increases 1200%.

    Fact #2: Mindfulness practices improve people’s physical and mental health.

    Now, says Dr. Robert Whitaker, a pediatrician and professor of pediatrics and public health at Temple University, there’s one more important fact: People who are mindful are physically and mentally healthier, no matter what their ACE scores are.

    This study, to be published in the October issue of Preventive Medicine, is the first to look at the relationship between ACEs, mindfulness and health. And it has implications for anyone, and especially those who take care of children– teachers, parents, coaches, healthcare and childcare workers.

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    Dr. Robert Whitaker

    Many people think of mindfulness as sitting around and saying “Ommmm.” There’s actually more to it, and it’s worth explaining. People who aren’t mindful don’t regulate their own emotions very well. Situations that trigger traumatic memories may cause people who aren’t mindful to lose focus on what’s happening currently, and lead them to make snap judgments and have knee-jerk reactions of anger, frustration, or fear, which can further the spread stress and trauma. They also ruminate on situations they can’t control, and can’t let go. And they may not even be conscious that they’re doing any of this. They just think it’s part of their personality.

    Here’s what it’s like not to be mindful:

    • “My co-worker’s angry today. I must have done something wrong. She’s JUST like my mother: moody, angry, a screamer. Well, I’d better get my defenses up and give her a piece of my mind before she attacks me.”

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  • Patrick Kennedy builds connections among diverse sectors to change healthcare

    (l to r) Patrick Kennedy, Bill Emmet, Kennedy Forum executive director, and Mike Thompson

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    Former U.S. Congressman Patrick Kennedy is building a “Community of Mental Health,” by making connections that are needed for mental health to be fully integrated into our understanding of overall health. To achieve this goal, the son of U.S. Senator Edward M. Kennedy has created the Kennedy Forum—so named to evoke the memory of President John F. Kennedy and employ the family name to inspire, motivate, and unite advocates and policymakers around a shared vision of what healthcare should be. The Kennedy Forum is focused on the development, implementation, and dissemination of mental health and addiction policy and standards—with the first order of business being the implementation of the new mental health and addiction parity law.

    The Kennedy Forum is providing this leadership by convening people with diverse interests and perspectives in a variety of formats including one-on-one meetings, national summits, locally focused seminars and forums being held venues as diverse as Chicago and Cape Cod. The goal of the Forum is to help shape the service delivery and payment system of the future—one that encourages prevention, early intervention, and coordinated care for all who need it.

    Patrick Kennedy (center) addresses gathering at the Kennedy compound in Hyannis Port, MA

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    The premier meeting of the Kennedy Forum was held at the Kennedy Library in Boston in the fall of 2013 (the second such meeting will be held in June 2015). Earlier this summer, a series of small gatherings took place at the Kennedy compound in Hyannis Port, on Cape Cod in Massachusetts. A meeting is scheduled for November 13 in Chicago to address local issues. Part of that meeting will address prevention and early intervention in mental health, including the traumatic impact of community violence on the city’s children.

    Arthur Evans

    Arthur Evans at Philadelphia “I Will Listen” event

    The gatherings at the the family home on Cape Cod brought together leaders from a variety of fields to share experiences and expertise and learn from each other, often for the first time. Here are several examples of participants who illustrate different perspectives on improving health in the broadest sense of the word:

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  • Massachusetts “Safe and Supportive Schools” provisions signed into law, boosts trauma-informed school movement

    Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick

    Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick

    Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick today signed into law provisions to create conditions for “safe and supportive schools” intended to improve education outcomes for children statewide, and giving momentum to the state’s trauma-informed schools movement. They were included in The Reduction of Gun Violence bill (No. 4376). This groundbreaking advance was achieved when advocates seized the opportunity to add behavioral health in the schools to the options under consideration as state officials searched for ways to strengthen one of the nation’s more restrictive gun laws in the aftermath of the tragic shooting of schoolchildren in Newtown, CT.

    House Speaker Robert DeLeo saw the connection between reducing gun violence and school achievement and was instrumental in the bill’s passage. When the original sponsor of a Safe and Support Schools Act, Katherine Clark, left the state legislature for the U.S. House of Representatives, some advocates were concerned the void would not be filled. Their fears were assuaged when Rep. Ruth Balser of Newton and Sen. Sal DiDomenico of Boston became lead sponsors.

    The schools act supporters were jubilant that the legislation they labored on for years was incorporated in the gun violence bill now signed into law, and expressed deep relief and excitement about the achievement. They also said the hard work of statewide implementation now begins.

    The law requires the state education department to develop a framework for safe and supportive schools, first developed by a task force established by the legislature in 2008, that provides a foundation to help schools create a learning environment in which all students can flourish. The framework is based on a public health approach that includes fostering the emotional wellbeing of all students, preventive services and supports, and intensive services for those with significant needs.

    Within the framework, schools are encouraged, but not mandated, to develop action plans that will be incorporated into the already required School Improvement Plans. The law also provides a self-assessment tool to help in the creation of the plans.

    Under the leadership of the Trauma and Learning Policy Initiative (TLPI), a coalition of the Massachusetts Advocates for Children and Harvard Law School, the “Safe and Supportive Schools Coalition” was formed to move the legislation

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