Paladin is a trauma informed care organization. It has taken us about three years to fully understand and implement a trauma informed care environment. And even after fully implementing this, we still have to work every single day to continue our efforts.
After starting this blog I realized it was going to be too long. So I am going to break it into a few pieces, the first one, this one, is about the planning process. We implemented as we were going, and modified our program as we learned more. I think some people might recommend that the planning phase be completed first, and that implementation follow. But we saw such significant needs in our students, that we kind of jumped in head first. It's really only in hindsight, that I can clearly lay out the planning phase of this process. When I write about the program deployment, it will be easier to see where the planning and deployment overlapped.
For those of you who have been through this process, or who are going through this process, I would love to know how it's going for your organization. And if you have been a trauma informed care organization for awhile now, I'd love any advice you might have on how to maintain this challenging and hugely rewarding work.
Here are the steps we took at Paladin:
Learn everything you can about your students. Depending on the size of your school, you could do this during the intake process, during new student orientation, or by using a survey. We use a survey. But we also update data as we learn new information that was not reported in the survey. For example, a student does not answer the question about having a parent in prison. But then a parent shows up for parent/teacher conferences and informs the teacher that the other parent will be out of jail in 2018.
- Create or find a data collection and reporting tool. We were lucky because I happen to own a software company, so the school uses the software for free and we have modified it to collect information we need. But there are other options out there. It's best if you have the ability to update field names, tables, and reports based on your needs.
- Once you start collecting data, identify the common issues and trends among your students. This will assist you in creating or modifying programs within your school to achieve the maximum benefit for students.
- Disseminate the information to your full team. Don't try to communicate about each and every student with each and every staff member. You'll never get past this point if you take that approach. Make sure that you give the overview to everyone. What percentage of your students live in single family homes, live in poverty, are homeless? How far behind are your students, is there a correlation between risk factors and years behind in school? Also make sure that relevant and specific data is available for those who need it - counselors, special education service providers, case managers, etc.
Educate all staff on ACEs, toxic childhood stress, neural development and the impact of toxic stress.
- Require all staff to read the CDC ACEs study and the MN Dept of Health ACEs study. The MN Dept of Health Study did not come out until after we had already read the CDC study. If your state has their own study, use it. But if your state has not done this yet, find a few studies from other states that are similar to yours.
- Bring in experts in the field of ACEs and brain development. This was important. Even though we had a number of staff who had become experts, the team you work with everyday will not see you as an expert.
- Use ACEs data to discuss specific incidents that happen at your school. This will help make the data real.
- During staff training or in-service, assign teams to research ACEs, techniques to build resiliency, and the principles behind trauma informed care. Have those teams present their learning to the rest of the staff using any variety of presentation. We found role playing and skits to be the most fun.
Build "buy-in" from all staff - this is a must. If you have team members who do not value the information that was learned through the ACEs studies, or who do not believe that trauma informed care is a critical component to addressing ACEs, your efforts will be in vain.
- Meet with individual leaders and small groups of staff and ask them to share the strengths of a trauma informed environment.
- Also ask the small groups or leaders to identify potential issues that may need to be addressed. It's important to do this in a small group environment, particularly if you have any team members who are typically "contrarians" (the staff who always see things from a contrary point of view) or those who tend to be negative about new initiatives. Every team has people like this. And it is truly healthy for the environment, but it does require extra management through implementation of new programs.
Take the information to your board - depending on the size of your school, this may not be necessary. This was an important step for us because we wanted to do our own research, as we implemented the new model. Because we are a small school, we knew that any new program, particularly a program that might re-direct funding within our school was going to need to show that it was having a positive impact for our students.
Identify the programs that are already in place that will be part of your support system for students. Programs might include (this was our starting point):
- Food and Nutrition program
- Homeless Liaison Support
- Project Based Learning Program
- Restorative Justice**** (if you have a traditional discipline system, this will need to change) This will be a blog entry of its own.
- School counselor/social worker/school psychologists
- Special Education Team
- Student Advisors or Case Managers (this role becomes a critical component to manage student services)
- Work Based Learning Program
Identify the unique roles for the different positions, the overlap and the communication and referral process between people and departments.
Identify new programs or staffing positions that need to be implemented in order to support the trauma informed care environment. Be willing to address this repeatedly. You will likely need to adjust your programming or staff configuration once the program has been implemented. That is completely normal. No two programs in schools will be identical. Some core components will be similar, but your students will have unique needs and your staff will have unique skills. Finding the right fit for everyone will give you he ability to meet the student needs and support the staff.
Programs might include (this was our list of changes needed, or new roles, and new programs that we needed):
- Emergency support services for clothing, food, shelter, medical care, etc.
- Environment - calming, homelike, natural lighting, plants, well maintained
- Meals for all students, breakfast and lunch
- Restorative Justice Teams
- Primary coordinator
- Trained circle keepers
- First responders (crisis response team members)
- Student Services Support Coordinator (links services to students when external support services are needed, doctor appointments, therapists, sexual health, social services, health insurance, etc.)
- Student Success Coordinators (Case manager role for every student, previously advisors)
- Transportation to and from school that took into account transient, mobile and homeless students.
Train, train, train more, and then train some more
- There is a huge difference between educating someone about ACEs and trauma informed care, and training them to actually provide trauma informed care.
- We needed help with everything from what words to use, to what tone of voice to use, to our body posture, facial expressions.... literally everything. We brought in an organization to train us specifically on word choices and body language, the program was called Verbal Defense and Influence. I personally do not think the name of the program does justice to the program. The training we received was one of the greatest factors in the staff's comfort to address conflict in a way that was respectful, compassionate, but also direct when needed to ensure the safety of all the students, even in the midst of a crisis. Some of our team became experts on this, and we go over what we learned a few times each year.
- Role play scenarios.
- Use specific examples and possible scenarios that may occur in your school and talk through the process, what we know, what we say, what we learn, and what we do in each and every situation.
- Once you have deployed your new techniques, continue to review situations, talk through what went well and where improvements could have been made.
At some point in this process, you need to set a deployment date. Whether you decide to implement as you go, or to complete a full planning process first and then go for it, you will need to have communicated this with your entire team. I don't know that it is possible to get this entire process right the first time, so it's also important to talk with your team about the what-ifs, and to plan for those.
For example - what if a teacher who is upset because he or she is cussed at in front of other students, raises his or her voice at the offending student? Or what if a staff member simply tells a student to "get out of my classroom"? These things happen. In a trauma informed care environment we know that yelling, disconnecting or alienating students, actually causes additional harm. But at the same time, using a new set of parameters, and new language, isn't always easy. And that is even more true if a staff member is dealing with his or her own healing process, or does not have the support that he or she needs.
It's important to use the same principles with well meaning staff who make a few mistakes that you do with your students. There is obviously a difference, we have higher expectations of staff than we do of students, and I am not in any way suggesting that you lower your expectations, simply that you approach mistakes with kindness whenever possible. Change is hard, even when we are in control of it.