Who helps our helpers? Vic Compher’s “Portraits of Professional Caregivers” documents their passion, pain

ACompher2Vic Compher, director and co-producer of Portraits of Professional Caregivers: Their Passion. Their Pain,” didn’t start out as a filmmaker. This documentary — his fourth — was inspired by his 20 years working in child protective services, and another 10 years working in hospice and clinical social work with older adults.

During that decade, he learned that many professional caregivers who work with traumatized people experience secondary trauma  — also known as compassion fatigue or vicarious trauma. This includes firefighters, emergency medical crews, ER nurses, doctors, police, and others.

The first part of the documentary — which was co-produced by  Rodney Whittenberg, who teaches filmmaking, and who also composed the music for this film — focuses on secondary trauma, or what caregivers experience when they respond to and care for people experiencing trauma.

“Secondary trauma, or compassion fatigue, is one more layer of the trauma experience,” says Compher, “a parallel process for many professional caregivers with symptoms that at times can somewhat resemble what their clients may be experiencing.

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In “Notes from the Field,” Anna Deavere Smith asks us to end the “school-to-prison pipeline”

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An enthusiastic, diverse audience packed the seats at Berkeley Repertory Theater in Berkeley, CA, on July 10 for a rehearsal of Anna Deveare Smith’s new play, “Notes from the Field: Doing Time in Education.” Smith is known for seamlessly impersonating different characters from real life to spin a theme, often one that advocates for social change. This time, she stepped onto the stage – bare except for a few chairs, a sofa, and a podium — with a lone bassist (Marcus Shelby) playing off to one side. Three overhead screens identified her as Sherrilyn Ifill, president and director-counsel of the NAACP.

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Enochs High School students adamant about “Ending the Culture of Violence”

When Debbie Adair began teaching Enochs High School seniors a new unit she had introduced into her English classes called “Ending the Culture of Violence” last January, “eight or nine kids came forward.”

“Most of these kids told me about being a victim of violence, whether they had been molested by mom’s boyfriend or physically assaulted by an acquaintance,” she says. “None of them had received

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Landmark lawsuit filed in California to make trauma-informed practices mandatory for all public schools


Kimberly Cervantes, student-plaintiff in law suit against Compton Unified School District in California.

A landmark first step was taken today to insure that all public schools in the United States be legally required to address the unique learning needs of children affected by adverse childhood experiences.

A class action suit on behalf of five students and three teachers in the Compton Unified School District in Compton, CA, was filed by Public Counsel, the nation’s largest pro bono law firm, and Irell & Manella LLP. The civic law suit demands that Comptom schools incorporate proven practices that address trauma, in the same way public schools have adapted and evolved in past decades to help students who experience physical or other barriers to learning.

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


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.


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.

PBS documentary — “Raising of America: Early Childhood and the Future of Our Nation”

“Raising of America: Early Childhood and the Future of Our Nation” is a documentary series planned to run on PBS later this year. It’s being screened around the country now. The documentary explores how a strong start for our children can lead to a healthier, stronger, and more equitable America. The project grew out of an earlier award-winning documentary about inequality made by the same organization, California Newsreel, the oldest documentary production and distribution nonprofit in the U.S., along with Vital Pictures in Boston.

Of particular interest to the community of people who are interested in adverse childhood experiences is the fourth episode,  “Wounded Places: Confronting PTSD in America’s Shell-Shocked Cities.” The 42-minute documentary can be streamed from the Raising of America site. Earlier episodes are available there as well. “Wounded Places” details the effects of childhood trauma on later life and shows how healing can take place in communities throughout the nation.

Here’s the description of “Wounded Places”:

Wounded Places travels to Philadelphia and Oakland where a long history of disinvestment and racial exclusion have ravaged entire neighborhoods and exposed children to multiple adverse childhood experiences (or ACEs). We meet families and some remarkable young people who have been traumatized not just by shootings, but fear, uncertainty and a sense of futurelessness.

As Stanford physician Victor Carrion explains, “If we are crossing the street and we see that a truck is coming at us, we can manage that situation, get scared, jump, and move quickly. Unfortunately, many children in our society feel like a truck is coming at them all day long, for more days than not, and this really takes a toll.”

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