Maryann McEvoy, executive director of the Pennsylvania Office of Advocacy and Reform (OAR) and Child advocate, says one of the favorite things for her to talk about is “the beautiful and ingenious design of Heal PA.”
She describes Heal PA as “a coalition of trauma experts who create materials and resources and provide the knowledge that we need to get out into our communities.” The path to get trauma and resilience knowledge into communities is provided by a second entity—Resilient PA—that shares the content widely, relying on networks of non-profits and other organizations to communicate with their members.
McEvoy assumed leadership of OAR when the first executive director, Dan Jurman, left the position in late February after a two-year plus tenure (Jurman is now president and CEO of Camp Boggy Creek near Orlando, FL). In response to gaps in protection identified for children in Pennsylvania’s foster and congregate care systems, Governor Tom Wolf established OAR and the position of Child Advocate within OAR by Executive Order on July 31, 2019 with the directive to create a Trauma-Informed Pennsylvania. With the two key positions filled, milestones were achieved over the next spring and summer with the Governor’s announcement of a 25-member think tank in OAR on May 7, 2020 and the release of the “Trauma-Informed PA” plan to guide the Commonwealth and service providers statewide on what it means to be trauma-informed and healing-centered in PA on July 27, 2020.
Some of the original “think tank” members have continued to stay active in the efforts to create a trauma-informed and healing-centered Pennsylvania, organized through Heal PA. The Heal PA experts who have been part of the trauma-informed movement for years include diverse individuals involved in community-based initiatives from around the state. Some of the experts in government positions, according to McEvoy, “hold positions of power in systems we are hoping to reform into more healing centered systems.” She says Heal PA intertwines “both the boots on the ground doing work in our communities with state level officials, bringing together those lines of communication so we can all advocate as one unit.”
More details on the history of the trauma-informed movement in Pennsylvania can be found in an August 11, 2020 PACEs Connection article “Standing on the shoulders of giants: Trauma-Informed Pennsylvania builds on a foundation of early leadership and many community initiatives.” The article describes the foundational work in Pennsylvania of Dr. Sandra Bloom and colleagues who created the Sanctuary Institute (Bloom has since gone on to establish Creating PRESENCE), the first national ACEs Summit in Philadelphia, the Mobilizing Action for Community Resilience (MARC) project, and importantly the many community-based projects at the local level. The Pennsylvania Trauma-Informed Network site on PACEs Connection links to 12 community initiatives throughout Pennsylvania. Starting a state site on PACEs Connection was one of the deliverables listed in the “Trauma-Informed PA” plan.
The Design of Heal PA
Heal PA includes over 100 volunteers (including trauma survivors) from across the state, representing many communities where they serve in diverse roles as educators, social workers, law enforcement personnel among others along with high-ranking state agency officials. Along with McEvoy they include Kristin Houser, deputy secretary, Office of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services (OMHSAS); Robert Reed with the Attorney General’s Office; and Dr. Dana Milakovic from the Department of Education (Milakovic leads efforts around the Commonwealth’s Trauma-Informed Approaches in Schools project). With others, they form the 30-person Heal PA Leadership Team, which comprises Action Team co-chairs plus a board of directors. The stated responsibility of the leadership team is “bringing the work of the action teams together across all issues and recommendations, and for ensuring that the plan continues to improve and evolve with science, data, and each new success over time.”
The original 25-member “Think Tank” was created by Dan Jurman who had expected to have a 10-member group but increased it to 25 when 68 people applied. This early enthusiasm has continued, giving the work momentum but also creating logistical challenges. As McEvoy reflects on the way the movement exploded in Pennsylvania, she appreciates the energy of the first few years but recognizes that slower, smaller start could have allowed for structure and processes to keep pace more efficiently. Improvements in communication tools and other day-to-day mechanisms are now being implemented.
The dozen or so Action Teams cover topics such as communication and outreach, policy and legislation, data and evaluation, education, racial and communal trauma prevention, business involvement, and child abuse prevention (click here for the entire list). Short descriptions of each Action Team’s purpose and recruitment procedures are included here. Community and academic leaders such as Father Paul Abernathy, who heads the Neighborhood Resilience Project in Pittsburgh, and Karen Rice on the faculty of Millersville University, lead one or more Action Teams and therefore serve on the Heal PA Leadership Team.
As is the case in other states, institutional and community-based trauma work thrived in Pennsylvania but the work was done in silos without coordination or the benefit of shared knowledge. Heal PA provides a structure for individuals and communities to work toward common goals and to benefit from what being learned from both successes and challenges. Both the past and present leaders of Heal PA—Jurman and McEvoy—said the process of culture change that is the underpinning of the state initiative will unfold over years and years and is non-linear. Jurman says being trauma-informed is less a destination and more a process. Still, metrics are important, according to Jurman, who points to the January 2022 Progression Dashboard developed to track progress on the 48 recommendations made in the “Trauma-Informed PA Plan.” The dashboard document is attached and is also included on the homepage of the Heal PA website.
Highlights of the Action Team on Criminal Justice
Rob Reed, the Executive Deputy Attorney General for Special Initiatives, and Pam Howard, a behavioral health and developmental disabilities official with Montgomery County, PA, co-chair the Criminal Justice Action Team that “works to improve criminal justice outcomes through trauma-informed and healing-centered practices as well as supporting re-entry and prevention activities.” Six committees address specific issues within the action team including prevention, juvenile justice, policing, courts, corrections, and probation, parole and reentry.
When Reed first started in the Pennsylvania’s Attorney General’s Office after 35 years in the U.S. Department of Justice, he spoke with Attorney General Josh Shapiro about his interest in making Pennsylvania a trauma-informed state as part of his portfolio if selected for the job. According to Reed, Shapiro—now the Democratic gubernatorial nominee—supported Reed taking on this work. Shapiro has continued to support Reed’s commitment to this work and has since demonstrated his own understanding of the science. Reed points to a presentation Shapiro made to physicians that demonstrated his facility with trauma-informed concepts. For the last five years, Reed has traveled around the state, spreading the word about the impact of trauma, and now he says that close to 20 counties have trauma-informed coalitions with many more expressing interest in starting one. Reed also mentored a rising star in the trauma movement—Jesse Kohler, executive director of the Campaign for Trauma-Informed Policy and Practice—who was an intern in his office just a few years ago.
Reed has been making presentations on PACEs science around the state throughout his tenure in the Attorney General’s Office and was an early participant in the original “think tank” within the ORA. He recently participated in the May 19 virtual Bucks-Mont Collaborative Summit “Our Evolving Journey: Adverse to Healing Community Environments” on a panel “Creating a Trauma-Informed Criminal Justice System” and attended another conference organized by the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency (PCCD). The recent PCCD/ CJAB (County Criminal Justice Advisory Boards) conference “Administering Justice in a Changing World” was held at Penn State on April 12-13. (Click on Conference Portal for presentation slides.) This yearly event focused heavily on trauma, something Reed sees as a measure of how far the movement has come over the last five years. Several sessions focused specifically on trauma, including one by Dr. Stephanie Covington who covered the evidence documenting the impact of trauma on the risk of criminal justice involvement.
For several years, Reed, a former federal prosecutor, has been delivering trauma trainings across the criminal justice spectrum to Pennsylvania judges, correction officials, and probation officers. Following the death of George Floyd in 2020, the Pennsylvania legislature passed and Governor Wolf signed into law a new training requirement for law enforcement officials (H.B. 1910, Act 59, Session 2019-2020), requiring them to be trained in trauma-informed care. Reed has been working with the Municipal Police Officers’ Education and Training Commission (MPOETC) to begin the training of law enforcement officials.
Both Reed and Jurman see significant receptivity in the criminal justice world to transform corrections into a trauma-informed system. Reed described an “amazing and inspiring” presentation by the Acting Secretary of Corrections, George Little, whose remarks not only showed his deep understanding of trauma-informed systems’ change but revealed his long-term commitment to bring about real culture change. Jurman says that the Department of Corrections is second only to the Pennsylvania Office of Income Maintenance in the Department of Human Services that has undertaken training of its 4,000 employees using a three-module training program. He describes his approach while head of OAR as one that begins with people who are excited and eager and bring others along when there are good outcomes and results to share.
Partnering with the United Way of Pennsylvania
The United Way (UW) of Pennsylvania, according to Amanda McNaughton, UW of PA Member Services Manager and Resilient PA Staff Liaison, has a strong partnership with Heal PA through its support of Resilient PA, the communication and grassroots entity amplifying the work of Heal PA. As a 501 (C) (3) non-profit, United Way of Pennsylvania is able to accept grants to support its work—in this case, providing financial support to establish and activate Resilient PA.
McNaughton says United Way of Pennsylvania was encouraged to take a leading role by two local United Ways in particular—the United Ways of the Greater Lehigh Valley and Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey (UWGPSNJ). The UWGPSNJ provided grant funding to get the statewide grassroots organization off the ground, sharing resources to create a website and support activities such as a day of racial healing and “#WeHealUS” campaign, according to McNaughton. This local United Way, under the leadership of Suzanne O’Connor, spearheaded the work and pushed for significant involvement of the state United Way organization.
McNaughton says the “very close partnership” between Heal PA and the state United Way is a natural fit since the latter often serves as a “collaborator and convenor” and is focused on social determinants of health. She says “being healthy isn’t just about going to the doctor, it’s about having financial stability, being able to afford good housing, healthy food, and childcare. She reflects on the impact of recent “great global traumas” and resulting mental health challenges as forces that bring urgency to her organization involvement in this work.
With a change coming with the fall election and the ongoing pandemic and racial reckoning, McNaughton describes the time as one of “uncertainty and upheaval.” She says United Way of Pennsylvania is a nonpartisan organization that supports policies, not politicians. A key policy priority is addressing social determinants of health that informs the trauma work.
McNaughton highlighted United Way of Pennsylvania’s collaboration with Heal PA and “Collectively Rooted,” a client management organization focused on mental health and trauma, on state-wide trauma aware education for people who live and work in the state. Collectively Rooted is providing time and resources to Resilient PA to produce a series of nine videos on topics such as racial trauma, the neuroscience of trauma, moving forward through overwhelming experiences, and others. These videos will be part of a free, on demand learning course that will prepare individuals to become certified in trauma-informed care. The project will include a directory to connect people with trauma informed professionals such as educators and music teachers.
McEvoy reports that there have been conversations about how the work will live on with the upcoming change in the Administration. Governor Wolf, who has been supportive and visible on making Pennsylvania trauma-informed, is term-limited and will leave office on January 17, 2023. Voters in the primary election for governor on May 17 chose the Commonwealth’s current Attorney General, Josh Shapiro, as the Democratic nominee and State Senator Doug Mastriano as the Republican nominee. Many consider the Trump-endorsed Mastriano to be an “out of the mainstream” conservative on abortion, voting rights, and other issues. Since there has been a politically divided government since the beginning of the governor-supported statewide trauma movement in Pennsylvania, efforts to be bipartisan have been important all along.
Regardless of who wins the gubernatorial race, bipartisanship will be a priority along with making other changes such as codifying the office of child advocate, according to McEvoy. Legislation to accomplish that is now under consideration with bipartisan support. McEvoy believes that the structure and energy of the community-based initiatives will also help sustain the movement even if the Office of Advocacy and Reform is eliminated. She says pieces of the work will continue under the auspices of the Office of the Child Advocate, assuming the legislation is approved, as well as in other government agencies.
It is also helpful to sustainability that two pieces of legislation—one in education and one in law enforcement—have passed to require trauma-informed training. Another significant accomplishment is a hearing that was held Dec. 13, 2021 in the House Children and Youth Committee regarding Trauma Informed Care/Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) where Resilient PA and Heal PA provided testimony. But more important than state level action is the energy and commitment of community-based initiatives—a consensus opinion of those closest to the process in Pennsylvania.