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Book Club: One Way Life-Long Learning is Encouraged in the Center for Quality Integration


Benchmark’s Center for Quality Integration, made up of the Standardized Assessment Protocol (SAP) and Partnering for Excellence (PFE) teams, prioritizes learning about trauma and its effects on the children within child welfare systems. Both PFE and SAP seek to assist children who have experienced trauma in improving their outcomes and access to trauma-informed services. To be a champion of trauma-informed systems, the team must prioritize lifelong learning about the topic. One of the ways this is achieved is through our regular Book Club.

Jenny Cooper, our Chief Research and Development Officer, selects the books for the club to cover, with topics ranging from the child welfare system to resilience! She bases the selection on staff learning needs and current needs within our systems. Every other week, PFE and SAP team members meet to discuss the latest chapter of whichever book they are reading. Most recently, the team finished the engrossing bestseller The Body Keeps the Score by Dr. Bessel van der Kolk.

Dr. Bessel van der Kolk is a psychiatrist, located in Boston, and is renowned for his work in post-traumatic stress since the 1970s. Throughout the book, he discusses the role of trauma in various psychiatric illnesses, along with how our understanding of them has evolved. He teaches us about the ways the brain is shaped, changed, and re-wired by traumatic experiences, as well as the need for integrated healing practices for those traumatized. In a notable quote, one surely dear to the hearts of child-welfare champions, he writes “One does not have to be a combat soldier or visit a refugee camp in Syria or the Congo to encounter trauma. Trauma happens to us, our friends, our families, and our neighbors. Research by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has shown that one in five Americans was sexually molested as a child; one in four was beaten by a parent to the point of a mark being left on their body, and one in three couples engages in physical violence. A quarter of us grew up with alcoholic relatives, and one out of eight witnessed their mother being beaten or hit … It takes tremendous energy to keep functioning while carrying the memory of terror, and the shame of utter weakness and vulnerability.”

Throughout reading this book, the team kept the stories of the children they have served close to their hearts, sometimes recognizing cases described in stories to the very real cases they had encountered. Beyond that, some team members recognized stories from their own personal lives and the lives of their loved ones. Throughout reading the book, the staff were careful to be intentionally practicing self-care, as discussing trauma, even as related to those you do not know, can expose one to secondary traumatic stress.

While the book could be traumatic at times as it shared, in sometimes great detail, trauma retellings, there was one core message: there is HOPE. Dr. Bessel van der Kolk shared how the areas of the brain most impacted by trauma can be re-connected and reactivated through treatments such as yoga, mindfulness, play, and other evidence-based therapies. PFE’s and SAP’s Trauma Intensive Comprehensive Clinical Assessment mirrors this, as the assessment is trauma and resiliency-focused. The assessment is also focused on the whole person and holistic treatment services for individuals and their families.

Throughout the reading of this vastly challenging yet immensely crucial book, one thing was clear—the work we each do to improve the lives of children who have experienced trauma matters. It deeply, holistically, and vitally matters.

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