Horses help kids recover from adverse childhood experiences

ChildWithHorseBackToCamera1Baylie is eight years old. Born to a mother addicted to cocaine and an alcoholic father, removed from her parents at six months and covered with bruises and cigarette burns, Baylie (not her real name) has spent her childhood shuffled from one foster home to another. She rarely speaks, makes little eye contact with adults, shows no interest in playing with kids her age, and recoils from any attempt at physical affection.

Baylie’s ability to connect with anyone, or anything, seemed impossible until the day she met a horse named Steady.

Baylie is very lucky. Her court-appointed therapist has found a way to combine her own love of horses with the rapidly evolving field of equine-assisted psychotherapy.

Once a week Baylie goes to the stables, holds out an apple for Steady to nibble from her hand, pats, brushes and talks quietly to him about the things she does not want anyone else to hear.

For children like Baylie who have never been able to trust people, a horse can become a beacon of light in an otherwise dark world. Suddenly something big and powerful leans in, nuzzles you and looks you right in the eye. There is nothing to fear; this animal will not leave you, he will not betray you. With a trained equine-assisted therapist, a child like Baylie can be gradually introduced to forming a relationship with the horse. This ability to bond, perhaps for the first time in her young life, will then hopefully expand, allowing her to trust and connect with the wider world and to the people who exist within it.

This February, 25 experts from as far away as Finland will arrive at Saguaro Lake Ranch, a 1940s dude

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‘Invisible Scars’ trailer out; documentary is story of healing journey from child sex abuse

Johnna Janis’s documentary about her experiences with child sex abuse and other childhood adversity will be out next year, when she’ll be taking it to film festivals before distributing it.

Although the beginning focus of her story is child sex abuse, it unwinds with many other issues that emerged from her childhood adversity. With Dr. Vincent Felitti, co-founder of the CDC-Kaiser Adverse Childhood Experiences Study,  watching, she does her ACE score (a 9, out of 10), and then interviews him. 
As Janis notes: “This will be a great tool for people to see firsthand what happens to someone who has experienced trauma, and what steps can be taken to move towards healing. Great insight, excellent experts, and above all….room for prevention and education.”
Janis co-produced Invisible Scars with Sergio Myers, who directed the documentary. He is an award-winning director/producer who has been a good friend of Janis’ for almost 10 years. He is also a survivor of multiple ACEs, says Janis, and healed tremendously during the making of the documentary.
Janis said she brought him on board because of his background in film and television, and also so that he could use his own personal experiences to help shape the narrative of the documentary. They both share the desire to help others heal and grow.
“He was actually part of my educational journey,” says Janis. “According to my director, this film (in making it with me) has given him a voice to be able to talk about his past without having to publicly announce it, per se.”

Foster youth intern lands White House internship; working to make foster care trauma-informed

Amnoni Myers takes the stage at the 2014 Angels in Adoption celebration in Washington D.C. [CCAI photo]

Amnoni Myers takes the stage at the 2014 Angels in Adoption celebration in Washington D.C. [CCAI photo]

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By Daniel Heimpel

This fall, I traveled to Washington D.C. to attend the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute’s (CCAI) Angels in Adoption celebration.

The event, which draws stars from entertainment and D.C.’s political elite, always fills the cavernous Ronald Reagan Building on Pennsylvania Avenue, providing a suitable stage for some real heroes.

One of these was Amnoni Myers, a 26-year-old member of CCAI’s 2014 Foster Youth Internship

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San Diego Youth Services embraces a trauma-informed approach; kids do better, staff stay longer, programs more effective

Staff of the San Diego Youth Services TAY Academy welcome all Transition Age Youth (TAY) to drop-in. Left to right: Vanessa Arteaga, Indie Landrum, Stephen Carroll, and Gillian Leal.

Staff of the San Diego Youth Services TAY Academy welcome all Transition Age Youth (TAY) to drop-in. Left to right: Vanessa Arteaga, Indie Landrum, Stephen Carroll, and Gillian Leal.

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In 2010, 16-year-old Indie Landrum ran away from an unstable home where he lived with his mom and his grandmother. His older sister ran away when she was 16, and both of his brothers were incarcerated. Indie sought emergency housing at the San Diego Youth Services (SDYS) Storefront shelter, and lived there for several months before going into a long-term group home.

During his time at Storefront, SDYS began a dramatic transformation: the process of becoming a trauma-informed organization. Basically, that means instead of a staff member angrily asking a youth who’s acting out, “What’s wrong with you?” and punishing the behavior, staff members ask, “What happened to you?” and work with the kid on healing and recovery.

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Paper Tigers trailer…a peek into documentary about Lincoln High School

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Documentary filmmaker James Redford released the trailer for Paper Tigers, a documentary that follows four teens who attend Lincoln High School in Walla Walla, WA. Lincoln was the first high school in the country to integrate trauma-informed and resilience-building practices, which resulted in an 85 percent decline in suspensions and a 40% decline in expulsions after the first year. After four years, suspensions had dropped 90 percent, expulsions dropped to zero, and graduation rates increased five-fold.

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California’s first ACEs summit: Children Can Thrive

Parker Blackman. [Photo by Jason Steinberg/Steinberg Imagery]

Parker Blackman. [Photo by Jason Steinberg/Steinberg Imagery]

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A three-day summit on Adverse Childhood Experiences, or ACEs, strengthens California’s efforts to orient policy and practice around preventing and responding to child trauma.

By Parker Blackman

“We know that it makes sense to keep kids in school for $9,000 a year versus individuals in prison for $62,000 a year.”

This statement is the kind of thing you’d expect to hear from a leader in education or child welfare, right? What if I told you instead that the person who said this is a leader in the criminal justice system? In

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The town of The Dalles, OR, remakes itself as a trauma-sensitive sanctuary

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Tucked into a curve of the Columbia River, which marks the watery border between Washington and Oregon, lies the small town of The Dalles. Its claims to fame include being a major Indian trading site for 10,000 years, a camping spot for Lewis and Clark in 1805, and the terminus of the Oregon Trail.

Now The Dalles is seeking a different kind of notoriety. This city of 13,000 is the first in the nation to seek certification from the Sanctuary Institute—a model of organizational change that challenges every part of the community to examine and remake itself through a trauma-informed lens.

Dalles (pronounced “dahl,” with a silent “s”) is a French word for “slabs” of rock around and over which the Columbia once roared.  The population of this rural community, 70 miles east of Portland, is mostly white, 30% Hispanic, and less than 10% other ethnicities. “It’s small enough that I’m able to call the chief of police and go out for coffee,” says Trudy Townsend, assistant to the superintendent of the North Wasco County School District 21.

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