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

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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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How CA provides children’s mental health services under Katie A. settlement, part 2: home-based services

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By Melinda Clemmons

This is part two of a two-part look at mental health services mandated by the settlement of Katie A. v Bonta, a class-action lawsuit brought against the State of California over its lack of community-based mental health services for youths.

Having been removed from his parents’ home six months earlier, eight-year-old Michael didn’t need another disruption in his life.

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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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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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Alberta Family Wellness Initiative changes minds by informing Canadians about effects of toxic stress on kids’ brains

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A cartoon outline of a child – in a video – stands alone near a cracked sidewalk heaped with obstacles: giant red bricks labeled “neglect,” “abuse” and “parental addiction.” The voice-over says: “It’s possible to fix some of the damage of toxic stress later on, but it’s easier, more effective and less expensive to build solid brain architecture in the first place.”

The four-minute animation—which covers toxic stress, caregiver-child interaction and the role of communities in building healthy brains—has reached many people since its release in October 2013. But the video is just one snippet of the Alberta Family Wellness Initiative (AFWI), a project aimed to better the lives of children and families in one of Canada’s westernmost provinces.

Dr. Michelle Gagnon, vice president, Norlien Foundation

Dr. Michelle Gagnon, vice president, Norlien Foundation

The AFWI, launched in 2007 by the private Norlien Foundation, has an ambitious agenda: to promote the use of scientific knowledge about early brain and biological development in order to change beliefs, policies and practices related to children, families and communities—in short, to “bridge the gap between what we know and what we do,” according to a 2013 AFWI report.

The AFWI began its work by capturing the attention and engagement of high-level “change-makers”—government officials, community leaders, policy experts, academics and administrators who could learn the newest science, discuss it in depth, then take that story home to influence research, policy and practice.

“In the early days, the focus of our effort was on policy-makers and professionals rather than the public. You need to start changing the thinking of those in the system who are making decisions before you start focusing on a public audience,” said Dr. Michelle Gagnon, vice president of Norlien.

AFWI focuses on the “core story of brain development,” a series of metaphors grounded in emerging biomedical science and developed with the help of the FrameWorks Institute  and the Center for the Developing Child at Harvard University.

  • Brains are not just born; they are built through a child’s experiences and interaction.

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