What is worth fighting for: Reclaiming youth in trouble

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When black and brown girls are videotaped beating each other down, the blame game quickly starts. It happened when video of a fight at a Brooklyn McDonald’s went viral. Everyone joins in to accuse and shame: What’s wrong with these girls? Where are their parents? It’s all the Hip Hop and Atlanta housewives foolishness. Vile words condemn their character and culture, and they are ridiculed as beasts and something less than human. Some take a hands-off “those are not my kids” approach, while others gear up to sound alarms, alarms that have been ringing for too long.

When black and brown boys are frisked, kneed, bruised and bloodied by the police, you hear the same refrain: They were probably dealing or smoking or stealing. They should have known better. Didn’t anybody tell them you can’t win against the cops? “Why did they run?” some ask, most recently in the case of Freddie Gray, who dies in police custody in Baltimore.

The blame game is a lose-lose conversation. Black and brown children and young men and women are seen as not children, not whole, not deserving of help but as riotous, unfit for sympathy and unworthy of justice. Often they are not seen as fit to have a say in how they live their lives. They are acted upon instead of given the space to be active in their healing, so they can be the ones to restore their communities and organize for justice.

For two decades, The Brotherhood/Sister Sol (Bro/Sis) has been in the business of ensuring that black and brown youth of New York City not only

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ACEs-informed ‘freckles’ spreading across Midwest

SaintA human services agency

SaintA human services agency ________________________________________

Organizations across the Midwest that are integrating trauma-informed practices based on adverse childhood experiences research are like freckles amassing into a suntan, says Elena Quintana.

“It’s spreading,” says the executive director of the Institute of Public Safety and Social Justice at Adler University in Chicago, who estimates that about 100 organizations have integrated trauma-informed and resilience-building practices based on research in adverse childhood experiences. “You want there to be total coverage within practice and policy. We’re not there yet, but those spots are getting bigger.“

Restraints and seclusion

One of those spots is SaintA in West Allis, WI, that provides foster care, education and mental health services for children and families. The organization serves about 5,000 people daily across a wide array of services, the largest of which is child welfare case management in Milwaukee County, where SaintA serves about 1,400 children daily.

Ann Leinfelder Grove, executive vice president and a 25-year veteran of SaintA, says her organization began moving toward trauma-informed care about eight years ago.

Ann Leinfelder Grove, SaintA executive vice president

Ann Leinfelder Grove, SaintA executive vice president

“We were looking at the question of how to reduce the use of physical restraints within one of our programs,” she says. The State of Wisconsin had encouraged a change in the use of physical intervention and seclusion to manage troubled youth, which SaintA does through its residential treatment program, which serves 40 children at any one time, as well as supervised visitation family services programming.

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The truth about trauma and the impact of terror, and how I learned resilience

Mom, Ann, Dad, Leisa, 1972 ______________________

Mom, Ann, Dad, Leisa, 1972
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I was about seven years old when my mom first told me about the abuse she had suffered at the hand of her mom, my grandmother. I remember this vividly because I had just poured a can of grape soda over my three-year-old brother’s head in a “do you dare me, yes I dare you” game I was playing with my five-year-old sister. My brother, of course, started screaming as if he was being murdered, and my gorgeous, stay-at-home mom bolted out the front door of our early 1900s home as if she was going to kill someone.

The look on her face was enough to scare all of us. Even my brother, who seconds earlier was wailing at the top of his lungs, turned his hysterics into mini whimpers. My mom, however, was just getting started.

“Who did this?” she yelled.

My brother pointed at me, my sister pointed at me… and I pointed at my sister.

My mom said, “All of you had better make up your minds about this because the one thing I hate more than anything is being lied to.”

And so, knowing that I was in way over my head, I said to my younger brother, “You were looking the other way, you heard Ann, she was daring me to do it, and when I wouldn’t she did it.” My brother turned his arm and pointed at my sister.

My sister shrieked, “Why are you lying? Why are you blaming me? You always blame me.”

By now, several of our neighbors had stepped onto to their front steps to watch.  The old lady at the house to the right was just shaking her head in disgust. It was the summer of 1976. Most of the fathers in the neighborhood worked in blue-collar jobs. Most of the neighborhood moms were home with their kids, at least in the summers. The city streets had sidewalks, and the houses were separated by narrow driveways. My mom used to tell us not to air our dirty laundry for the neighbors to see, and this was exactly what we were doing.

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Documentary captures how a high school in a San Francisco jail heals and reduces recidivism

Believe it or not, although 70 percent of the adults incarcerated in our nation’s county jails lack a high school diploma, only one jail – San Francisco County Jail #5 in San Bruno, CA – offers inmates the opportunity to earn a high school diploma inside jail. Now a new feature-length documentary, The Corridor, wants to change that situation by capturing in detail how student inmates, teachers, and law enforcement staff prepare for graduation day and navigate a new paradigm of criminal justice.

Since the Five Keys Charter school opened in 2003 in San Francisco County Jail #5 with the support of former San Francisco County Sheriff Michael Hennessy, it’s helped cut the recidivism rate of prisoners nearly in half. Designed to prepare people in jail and their communities for their release, it offers inmates the opportunity to create alternatives to the revolving door of incarceration. So far, 800 inmates have graduated from the program.

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Children need caring adults, a chance to make mistakes to succeed in life

By Jill Roche, Youth Today

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For the better part of the last decade, I’ve worked as an education advocate in Hunts Point, an isolated community in the south Bronx. As many New Yorkers know, Hunts Point is consistently cited as the most at-risk neighborhood for children in the city based on low education attainment, record joblessness, housing conditions, health outcomes and other factors. Over 59 percent of the children in the community live in poverty.

Despite the difficult environment, we work with students to prepare them for success in high school, in college and beyond. Recently, a colleague wondered aloud: What is the difference for students who are able to move beyond the neighborhood legacy of low high school graduation rates and poverty?

I believe that the primary difference is the connection to people like him — youth development professionals, teachers, parents, caregivers and grandparents. The difference is a relationship with a supportive adult. Research stretching back close to 20 years has identified the support of a caring adult as a strong protective factor contributing to resilience in at-risk students. As youth advocates have always known: Every child needs a champion.

The presence of a caring adult in any child’s life is often pivotal: the undivided attention they offer, the experiences they share, the reassurance they can give as a child becomes a teenager and begins to explore the larger world. Becoming an adult requires that we take risks and make mistakes. It is only by making mistakes that we learn to assume responsibility for our actions, to ask forgiveness and begin to understand our relationship to others.

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Trauma-informed program in San Diego teaches parents to train other parents

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It took two years of weekly meetings between parents and organizers, but now 12 parent leaders at Cherokee Point Elementary School in City Heights, a mostly low-income urban neighborhood in San Diego with 91,000 residents, are teaching people about trauma, its effects, and how to build resilience. And they’re also training other parents to do the same.

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During the two years of meetings led by Dana Brown, project director of the Trauma Informed Community Schools (TICS), she and other organizers learned from the parents about the needs of the community, while in return, the parents learned about adverse childhood experiences, the impact of toxic stress and trauma, resiliency building, communication skills, coping skills, and social-emotional learning for themselves and their families. Then the parents and the organizers together developed the content for parent-training workshops.

Brown, a seasoned social entrepreneur who helped launch this program four years ago with a grant from The California Endowment, is also a regional community facilitator for ACEs Connection Network.

She emphasizes that because parent residents are the true community experts, “their reality and depth of understanding of their community’s culture is the most important voice. Every system, service provider and resource needs to have the consumer/customer/client’s voice at the forefront of their policy, practice, procedure and program.”

Brown says the day she knew that parents had achieved “collective efficacy” was in February 2014, when several parents led workshops in Spanish on trauma awareness at the Jacobs Center in San Diego for the Commission on Gang Prevention & Intervention’s Community Violence Prevention Summit. The event brought tears to the audience.

Beginning year five of the TICS program, the 12 parent leaders will be designing a “train-the-trainer” model for other parents to develop skill sets in trauma-informed and resilience-building practices, self-care and restorative practice. With several additional parent leaders, they are also expanding to three other schools: Central Elementary, Wilson Middle School and Hoover High School.

In addition, TICS is hiring and training six “cultural navigators,” selected from the parent leaders, to serve as a bridge between the community members and families in need, and to focus on health, education, and restorative practice. And for working with the highest needs and highest risk youth and families, Brown says they are hiring two “credible messengers,” also selected from the parent leaders.

To continue support for the parent-training program’s sustainability, they plan to apply for Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF), new funding from the State of California that allows local communities to decide how to spend some education funds specific to homeless, foster, and youth who are learning English as a second language.

Creating a culture of compassion in schools — Cherokee Point Elementary, San Diego, CA

In 2013, I posted a story about Cherokee Point Elementary School in the City Heights district of San Diego, CA. It was transitioning to becoming a trauma-informed school. Here’s a video that was posted this month about the school.

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