$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.

“They have the capacity and skills, and we’re already working with the population day in and day out that has been affected by early childhood adversity and trauma,” said Jones, who is also the director of child and family systems innovation at the Alliance.

A key part of the project will involve advocacy efforts with legislators and policymakers at the state and local levels. This effort will involve finding ways to communicate the significance of concepts such as toxic stress, adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) and epigenetics to policymakers, an area where Jones has some expertise.

Prior to her work at the Alliance, Jones served as associate director of the Wisconsin Children’s Trust Fund, where she helped to advocate for ACEs-related policy recommendations.

“From my experience in Wisconsin, the priorities that legislators identify to pursue don’t always align with what the science is telling us,” Jones said. “Our role as a national agency and in the nonprofit sector is to really pursue policies that are aligned with science and continue to advocate for that in every venue we can.”

At the Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin in Milwaukee, one of the Change in Mind sites, one advocacy goal is to encourage regulatory and fiscal changes at both the federal and state levels that would allow increased opportunities for organizations to provide interventions such as parent-child interaction therapy (PCIT) for families involved with the child welfare system.

PCIT helps therapists improve parent-child relationships via live one-on-one parent coaching.

For Gabe McGaughey, director of child well-being at the hospital, the Change in Mind initiative is an opportunity to start changing incentives that aren’t aligned to match the needs of children in the system who are disproportionately affected by ACEs and toxic stress.

“How do we start shifting the conversation away from ‘Did you exit foster care? Did you complete the program’, to ‘Are you better off, are you meeting your developmental milestones’,” McGaughey said.

Right now, he noted, “systems aren’t necessarily set up to measure those outcomes.” Changing policies in the child welfare system is critical, he said, because so much science has emerged that has yet to be acknowledged or incorporated into the practices of service providers.

“A lot of policies, a lot of interventions and new ideas have come up that we didn’t know when I started doing this work many years ago,” McGaughey said. “This is about how do we changes the policies—not just the ‘big-P’ policies associated with laws but how do we do things differently on the front line.”

You can read more about the goals of individual Change in Mind grantees by clicking here.

Jeremy Loudenback is the Child Trauma Editor for the Chronicle of Social Change

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