Washington, DC, forum examines trauma-informed approaches to end school-to-prison pipeline

Free Minds

A diverse group of school staff, mental health professionals, justice advocates, and city employees recently crowded the Moot Court Room at the University of the District of Columbia David E. Clark Law School to begin dismantling the school to prison pipeline.

The event included justice-involved youth and recently incarcerated people who described their struggles to overcome adversity; they spoke from the heart in unsparing detail. The audience and the other presenters—including David Grosso, at-large DC City Council member and the chair of the Education Committee—were riveted by the stories and the poetry, and lingered in animated conversation long after the program ended. The Trauma-Informed DC Initiative and ACEs Connection Network organized the event, which took place last month.

David Grosso Wash., DC City Council MemberGrosso described how the city council took a first, small step by passing a ban on pre-K suspensions and expulsions of three- and four-year olds, overcoming pushback from those who believed a ban, even for children this young, would undermine discipline and learning. The legislation also requires every local education agency to submit information—organized by campus, grade, sex, and race—to the Office of State Superintendent of Education on suspensions and expulsions. The first report is due in October.

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Why Do Victims Lie?


By Amanda Kay, JD, and Ryan L. Gonda, JD

Children and adult victims of violence and abuse are routinely called upon by police, attorneys, advocates, and judges to be witnesses and to tell their stories. But many victims lie or recant their testimonies.

Often victims’ stories change over time; they might recant their original testimony. And when a victim who initially described abuse later withdraws the allegations, minimizes them, or expresses confusion about what happened, police, attorney and judges often conclude that the victim lied.

Truth, however, is very rarely the issue. In child abuse cases, it been reported that nearly 75% of sexual abuse victims initially deny abuse and that nearly 25% eventually recant their allegations. Many reasons have been identified for the relatively high percentage of adult victims who fail to press charges, refuse to cooperate with prosecution, or do not pursue protection orders.

Distrust of the system

Adult victims may choose to forgo the courts because they think the justice system is ineffective, which is supported by confusing procedures, lack of information provided to the victims about their cases, lack of support in meeting the demands of the system (e.g., transportation, time off work, and child care), frustration at the slow progress of the proceedings, concern about losing custody of any children, and fear that the abuser still has access to the victim while

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Chicago’s trauma-informed summer jobs program prevents kids from engaging in violence

President & Deshawn_300DPI

President Obama congratulates One Summer Chicago Plus star graduate DeShawn Shepherd

Between the ages of 4 and 15, Jonathan Booker was in and out of 13 homeless shelters. His mother was often too busy to care for him, his grandmother tried but found she was too old and didn’t have enough money, and he never knew his father, Booker says. He fell into the wrong crowd and sold drugs on the streets of Chicago’s South Side Roseland neighborhood, he says.

“I didn’t have people in my corner,” Booker says. “I didn’t have people I could depend upon.”

Today, at age 21, Booker is a freshman at Western Illinois University, after graduating from Fenger High School in Chicago with a 4.0 GPA. He’s planning to study psychology.

“I did a dramatic 360,” he says of the past few years of his life.

Booker was one of about 2,300 Chicago youth, most between the ages of 16 and 19, who spent the summer with the One Summer Chicago Plus program. They worked 25 hours a week and received five hours a week of mentoring, cognitive behavioral therapy and social skills building from a cadre of adult leaders trained in dealing with trauma.

While Chicago has had a summer jobs program for decades—and continues broader programs that employ a total of 23,000 youth—the One Summer Chicago Plus program began in 2012 under then-newly elected Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

The program, which costs $3,087 per student, is aimed at youth who have been truant from school for at least six to eight weeks and/or who have been directly involved in the juvenile justice system. While the City of Chicago is spending $6 million in 2015 and 2016 combined on the program, the bulk of the funding has come from Inner City Youth Empowerment LLC, founded by former basketball great Earvin “Magic” Johnson, which donated $10 million, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.

Prior to this summer, the program had shown encouraging results, according to research by Sara Heller, an assistant professor of criminology at the University of Pennsylvania. Her research, which covered the summer of 2012—when 700 youth from 13 high schools in high-crime areas participated—found that 16 months after youth went through the two-month program, they committed roughly half the number of violent crimes as youth who applied but could not get into the program.

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Childhood trauma — is it a disability or injustice?

blog-1024x818You may have noticed the recent media attention being paid to the Compton Unified School District lawsuit (NPR and LA Times). The lawsuit has been filed on behalf of eight Compton students and alleges that the school system failed to properly educate students who suffered from repeated violence and other trauma.

Public Counsel, the pro bono law firm that filed the lawsuit (along with Irell & Manella LLP), is asking a Federal judge to grant an injunction that will require the school district to provide training to teachers, administrators and other staff. Echo Parenting & Education is currently in discussion with Public Counsel about what that training might look like, given our experience in conducting trauma-informed nonviolent training for the staff of Sally Ride Elementary, our pilot project for the Whole School Initiative.

Our goal in these trainings is not to tell teachers and others how to do their jobs, but to act as a resource to help district staff recognize and understand the effects of trauma (as specified in the injunction), as well as to provide a trauma-informed nonviolent frame to understand what lies beneath the behavior of all students. Together, we can ensure that children are not further punished for the outworkings of pain, numbness and anger that are the natural consequences of trauma, which can include witnessing community violence and experiencing racism and bullying, but also overly-harsh and misattuned parenting.

It has taken this lawsuit to highlight the plight of the many children who arrive at school with scenes of violence etched in their memories, or feelings of powerlessness in the face of abusive adults or systems. They are primed and ready to blow or have found that the way to survive is to disengage entirely. The conversation is happening at long last, and all kudos to those brave Compton students and the valiant, pioneering pro-bono lawyers, not to mention the long-suffering teachers and parents.

We wholeheartedly agree with the argument that accommodations should be made for students who

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$2.2 Million initiative highlights trauma policy push

By Jeremy Loudenback, ChronicleOfSocialChange.org


Jennifer Jones

This month, the Alliance for Strong Families and Communities will kick off a multi-million initiative designed to help service providers translate scientific findings around child trauma, toxic stress and developmental brain science into public policy.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Canada-based Palix Foundation have committed $2.2 million over three years for the Alliance, a powerful membership group of youth service providers, to sub-grant to 15 participating nonprofit organizations in the U.S. and Canada interested in leading child trauma-based reform. All sites will be funded $50,000 for two years, and a developmental evaluation will be conducted within the three-year period.

The “Change in Mind: Applying Neurosciences to Revitalize Communities” initiative is one of several recent efforts aimed at increasing the policy impact of trauma-related research.

According to Change in Mind Director Jennifer Jones, the 15 organizations will serve as leaders in their communities and across the public sector on how to apply trauma-related practices. While each organization may have a different set of policy and advocacy goals, they will share successful strategies with each other and participate with an outside organization to evaluate effectiveness. The initiative kicks off this month in Chicago with an organizing conference that will help develop collective goals to accompany the specific policy priorities of each site.

The moment is ripe, Jones said, for nonprofit service providers to take a leading role in encouraging adoption of trauma-informed practices.

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California mentorship program offers comfort to sexually exploited young women

Through times of trauma and distress, often all a child needs is to be showered with love. It may sound corny, but for the estimated100,000 children who are sexually exploited per year around the country, it can be transformative.

The Lasting Links Mentorship Program at MISSSEY (Motivating, Inspiring, Supporting and Serving Sexually Exploited Youth), an Oakland, Calif., nonprofit, works to end child exploitation and help victims through the formation of healthy, supportive and loving adult relationships.

“Some of them will even just come in to the drop-in center for a hug; they’ve said that to us,” said executive director Falilah Bilal at MISSSEY.

In Oakland, MISSSEY’s efforts are more than necessary. The San Francisco Bay Area is one of the top three epicenters of human trafficking in the United States along with Los Angeles and San Diego, with 46 percent of all prosecuted human trafficking cases in California coming from the Alameda District Attorney’s office.

“People think that this is a problem that happens to kids ‘over there,’ whether it’s kids from other countries or poor black kids or boys from another place,” said Bilal. “People don’t think that this is an American-bred issue that happens across all class and all gender. This is something confronting and impacting all of us.”

MISSSEY partners with Girls Inc. and the Mentoring Center to match people who wish to volunteer their time to provide advice and emotional support to sexually exploited young women in need.

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Pediatricians screen parents for ACEs to improve health of babies


Pediatricians Teri Petterson (l) and RJ Gillespie (r) ___________________________________

The Children’s Clinic, tucked in a busy office park five miles outside downtown Portland, OR, and bustling with noisy babies, boisterous kids and energetic pediatricians, seems ordinary enough. But, for the last two years, a quiet revolution has been brewing in its exam rooms: When parents bring their four-month-old babies in for well-baby checkups, they talk about their own childhood trauma with their kid’s pediatrician.

Wait. What’s Mom or Dad’s childhood got to do with the health of their baby? And aren’t pediatricians supposed to take care of kids? Not kids’ parents?

It turns out that just 14 questions about the childhood experiences of parents provide information critical to the future health of their baby, say Children’s Clinic pediatricians Teri Pettersen and RJ Gillespie. The answer to the questions can help determine not only if the child will succeed in school, but when the child becomes an adult, whether she or he is likely to suffer chronic disease, mental illness, become violent or a victim of violence.

They explain how this is possible.

It’s an understatement to say that raising a kid is a challenge, and not for the faint of heart. The many stressful moments of an infant or a toddler’s life include tantrums, colic, toilet training, sleep problems, colds, hitting and biting, say Pettersen and Gillespie.

“At some point, a toddler is likely to hit or bite Mom and Dad,” says Pettersen. “How will they respond?”

If parents have grown up with a lot of adversity in their lives and little help in understanding how that adversity affects their behavior and how they react to stress, they’re more likely to pass that on to their children, even if they don’t intend to, by reacting without thinking in typical “fight, flight or fright (freeze)” mode. They may hit the child, walk away from the child who’s asking for attention (albeit in a negative way), or freeze, only to be bitten or hit some more. None of that helps grow a healthy child or a healthy relationship between the parent and child.

Long story short: The physicians at the Children’s Clinic believe that asking parents about their own childhood adversity is a good start to preventing their children from experiencing childhood trauma.

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