• Early childhood educators learn new ways to spot trauma triggers, build resiliency in preschoolers

    Julie Kurtz, co-director, trauma-informed practices in early childhood education, WestEd Center for Child & Family Studies/photo by Laurie Udesky

    A hug may be comforting to many children, but for a child who has experienced trauma, it may not feel safe.

    That’s an example used by Julie Kurtz, co-director of trauma-informed practices in early childhood education at the WestEd Center for Child & Family Studies (CCFS), as she begins a trauma training session. Her audience, preschool teachers and staff of the San Francisco, CA-based Wu Yee Children’s Services at San Francisco’s Women’s Building, listen attentively.

    Kurtz leads them into a description of how a child’s young brain functions, how young children – regardless of whether they have experienced trauma or not — live in their reptile brain.

    “What’s the job of the reptile brain?” she asks.

    “Survival” comes a response. “Yes, it’s fight, flight or freeze,” she says.

    With guidance from adults, she explains, children’s immature brains develop neurons that build bridges to the rational part of the brain. The rational, executive part of the brain, she continues, is a place of calm, where we can plan, solve problems, and imagine how someone else interacting with us is feeling.

    But if a child is in a state of terror, explains Kurtz, all bets are off. In that state, a child can’t hear what you’re saying or express herself in words, Kurtz says.

    “What’s the strategy to calm a reptile brain?” she asks.

    “It depends on the child…one idea is holding the child,” offers a teacher.

    ”Reassure the child,” suggests another teacher.

    “Bring them to the current time,” another chimes in.

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  • Tonier Cain Deserves an Evidence-Based Apology

    Tonier Cain. Photo: Yi-Chin Lee/USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin

    Editor’s note: Over 15 years, Tonier Cain was arrested 83 times, and convicted 66 times. She was addicted to crack. She was a prostitute. She had four children and lost them to child protective services. Remarkably, she didn’t give up hope, and one day, she found someone in the system who knew about trauma and who didn’t give up on her. Cain now advocates for trauma-informed care in prisons and mental health facilities. She gives speeches around the country and the world. Cissy White was fortunate to attend a conference in North Carolina where Cain gave a presentation. This is Cissy’s reaction.
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    When Tonier Cain gave a keynote presentation at the Benchmarks’ Partnering for Excellence conference in North Carolina, it took me months to recover from her speech.
    Seriously. It was hard to stand after she spoke. When I did, I went right to a yoga mat in the self-care calm room for a while. I took off my high heels and curled up in a ball for a bit.
    I’m still digesting her words. It’s not that the content was intense and heavy, though it was. It wasn’t that she talked about a ton of traumatic experiences she had survived – though she did.

    It’s not that my own trauma was triggered, though that happened.

    It was the way she spoke about being let down so often by the systems she was often in and how often she was re-traumatized by them.

    It’s the way she challenged my thinking so that I can no longer think about adverse childhood experiences without thinking about all of the ACEs – adverse childhood experiences and adverse community experiences and how intertwined they are.

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