• 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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  • School leaders rethink school discipline at White House conference

    Mike Lamb, TurnAround for Children ________________________

    Mike Lamb, Turnaround for Children

    There is a growing national consensus, reflected in the positions and priorities of lawmakers at all levels of government, that the U.S. criminal justice system must be reformed with the goal of ending mass incarceration.  That consensus extends to upstream preventive strategies, especially for improving approaches to school discipline.  The zero-tolerance approach to school discipline leads to approximately three million children being expelled or suspended annually, with a disproportionate number being children of color. This indisputably contributes to increased school dropout rates, juvenile justice system involvement, and ultimately to higher levels of incarceration.
    A July 22 meeting at the White House to “Rethink School Discipline” reflects this growing consensus. The Obama Administration convened several hundred school leaders from around the country to hear from federal policymakers and share best practices and current research. There were major addresses by the heads of two federal departments—U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan set the stage, and Attorney General Loretta Lynch made concluding remarks.  But  center stage belonged to local school leaders, philanthropists, and academics.

    Mike Lamb, Turnaround for Children’s executive director in Washington, D.C., reported on the breakout session he attended, “Building Trauma-Informed Schools.” One takeaway message, said Lamb, is that there is a roadmap to follow in schools and in classrooms to help manage the impacts on teaching and learning from the stress in children’s lives, especially those affected by the trauma of multiple adverse childhood experiences (ACEs). [Learn more about adverse childhood experiences at ACES 101.]

    “This gives us hope for the most challenged children,” he said.

    In his report on the small group conversation, Lamb highlighted three messages. He noted that the data might be scary but the situation is not hopeless. The

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  • Justice system must not worsen harsh realities of life for LGBT youth

    by  Judge George Timberlake, Ret., JJIE.org


    Judge George Timberlake, Ret.

    Recently, I had a visit from a couple I have known for decades. Let’s call them Butch and Mary. They had a problem: Their daughter, Jane, had just split from the father of her child, and custody and other issues had arisen. During the conversation, I asked about family relationships and resources and Mary said that the whole family was supportive except one grandmother.

    That grandparent had become estranged when she learned a few years ago that Jane was “dating a girl.” There was no hesitation in relaying this information, and no judgments about this history were indicated in this statement of fact. My friends’ willingness to openly discuss these family issues was enlightening.

    If we were to seek a label for Jane — as her paramour’s attorney might do in a custody battle — would she be lesbian, bisexual, curious or “cured?” And what effect would that have on the court system in its duty to do justice?

    If the U.S. Supreme Court has declared gay marriage to be part of the fundamental rights of privacy, speech and expression for all American citizens, does that signal the acceptance of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals as illustrated by my friends?

    For the juvenile justice and child welfare courts, the answer is decidedly “No.” In a 2010 report, the National Council of Crime and Delinquency found that LGBT youth comprise 5 to 7 percent of the general population but approximately 15 percent of detained youth. Subsequent research has verified that finding and has looked for causes of this disproportionality.

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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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