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My hopes for a trauma-informed California


Every evening, I try to engage my daughter in reflection, gratitude, and hope. I try to practice the same, but tonight, I felt the need to share with you all.

Today I had the opportunity to attend the Toward a Trauma-Informed Northern California Summit 2018 – it was an incredible experience.

We were welcomed with a moving, informative, and engaging keynote speaker, Dr. Isaiah B. Pickens, who laid the foundation for what would be a day of growth, reflection, connection, and peer support. He shared a wealth of knowledge and reminded us how relationships can help us connect to a persons story, and how this can help us respond to trauma, creating an opening to explore healthy coping alternatives – R&Rs, this is what we can do well, indeed, it’s the core of our very existence: relationships. So many of us want to “fix” something, but we know, if we are true to ourselves, that this can not happen without genuine relationships and understanding. Dr. Pickens spoke of how we must acknowledge, ask, and adjust our support for the community and culture we intend to serve, about ACEs in context, narrative therapy, and the need to heal ourselves – and have the organizational support to do so… so, you know I had to follow him to learn more at his breakout session on Trauma-Informed Organizations… but first, I got to hear from so much amazing work other statewide partners are doing – because we do not have to (nor should we) do this work alone.

Now, anyone who has heard my rambles over the past year knows that while I am incredibly excited to roll out our TI curriculum, training, and supports to R&Rs so that they can feel supported and ready to train & coach caregivers, build on their provider services work, and fly this plane, we at the Network are deeply committed to supporting our greater responsibility to transform and better our work, to grow our best selves, and roll out a structure that can support this critical metamorphosis. This isn’t just a contract, this is a commitment. It is an opportunity to transform and elevate our work, to strengthen the relationships we have with families and caregivers. It is not a box to check, but an opportunity to connect – on a meaningful, genuine, and thoughtful level. It is an opportunity to heal ourselves and support our communities process as well. This movement demands that we PAUSE and reflect on how we can better ourselves and therefore better our contribution to our communities. As a growing Provider Services department at the Network, it also means that we need to and are excited to identify the most meaningful ways to integrate what we are learning into our everyday work – enter TI Organizations, R.A.V.E., S.T.S.I., and a new alphabet soup to embrace. Enter – Trauma-Informed Organizations and an organizational assessment to help us understand the impact of Secondary Traumatic Stress (STSI), which I’m excited to hear Strategies 2.0 will be piloting and we will follow closely. Enter strategies to Reframe, Affirm, Validate, and Empower (R.A.V.E.) ourselves, and therefore the tools to support our colleagues in a process to realizing their own light and learn self-compassion. Enter – an entire rethinking of how we supervise and support our teams! Enter – opportunities to grow as humans, as a community, as organizations doing work that serves the community in a way that respects their needs, priorities, strengths, and processes. Most impactful, Dr. Pickens helped me, on a personal level, understand how my self-identity can be my compass, and for that I’m grateful. He exemplified how I hope we can deliver our work – with respect and dignity for our own voice and experience.

Awakening into lunch I enjoyed the surprise of realizing I was sitting with the closing Keynote facilitator, Dr. Anthony Urquiza as well as the Northern Learning Community facilitator for Strategies 2.0, Susan Jen. I was humbled to hear of their work, Dr. Urquiza, who since 1978, during his initial work as line staff in a psychiatric facility for children could see some of the root causes driving children into this space, and has spent his life unveiling these truths. Susan Jen’s work in bringing together the Northern counties to build their work and peer support in the vast of the northern state. Everywhere I turned, new partners and possibilities within reach of your own R&Rs. We talked about North Coast Opportunities and Child Action, because… well, what’s an R&R until you realize you know exactly who they are in your own back yard?! And I’m always humbled to know the amazing work R&Rs do day to day, and it was especially lucky to be joined by Jeannette Bellerive who shared what their work looks like in Santa Clara, first hand. As lunch whirled by, enter stage left – TRIGGER!

Exemplifying the beauty of every rose that grew from concrete – Alana and Maya – two radiant lights who performed two brave monologues, Maya’s whose was from her own, deeply personal, lived experience. They blessed us with a “snack” size glimpse into TRIGGER, the screenplay by DeAngelo Mack, which brought the room to tears and a joyful standing ovation. Spoken word and poetry has always been a welcoming and healing space for me, and to see the stories come to life from and be spoken by two powerful young women was awe-inspiring. These monologues were like an embrace from my own childhood. It was a reassuring reminder of how resilient children are, and how critical it is that we create and hold spaces for them where they can share their stories, their healing, their process, in their own beautiful way – because in so many instances, healing through art and culture is how our ancestors got us here and we must lift, not quiet, that strength.

After this incredibly moving experience, we transitioned into further breakouts by regions, to share what we’re up to, how we can partner, and plan some next steps. With one of our key partners blazing the way, Gail Kennedy of ACES Connection! Can you believe it was the first time I could finally hug Gail?!...Gail, who Michael Williams (yes our very own, formerly R&R and now Strategies 2.0 Director!) connected me with from the jump! Gail walked everyone through, just as she had done with me (and her team did with all R&Rs), the wealth of support and resources available on Michael Williams then led us to collectively share what we were working on throughout California and our next steps. The group landed on a need to have shared understanding of our work and terminology. Cal OES shared their focus and work on trauma-informed care, DPH discussed their work towards a race and equity action plan and how to infuse a trauma-informed perspective into existing work, and 4CA echoed with their policy focus. What better time for R&Rs to reflect and plan a more trauma-informed approach? What better opportunity to support our staff in their success and effectiveness in reaching and supporting families?!

This conversation continued as we closed our loop back together again. We went around the state and shared our highlights and next steps, and some of these messages resounded louder – First 5 is also adding trauma-informed language to contracts, as are other funders, and yet, we are still in an era where what this looks like is being thought through and defined. Yuba is looking to share the film Paper Tigers in their community and are reaching out to Strategies 2.0 so they can meet their regional representative (it’s Kim Thomas – find yours here!). Placer is practicing mindfulness; the Bay area is addressing community violence and the criminal justice system; Monterey is a dessert and in need of services (and yes I shared our info, talked about immigration issues traumatizing our communities and our local R&R as well – s/o MAOF); the north plans to reach out to the ECE community because they understand how hard it is to get paid time off and these first years are so critical; Yolo is doing incredible work – Resilient Yolo and soon a “Natalie’s List” by Natalie Aldridge. R&Rs – I invite you to consider your next steps in your region – call a potential partner, reach out to your local Family Resource Center, bring in Strategies 2.0 for a free staff training (20 people in a room and it’s free!), or find YOUR county or regional ACES community today, and if there isn’t one yet, reach out and ACES Connection staff will help you set it up so that you can connect with new partners, access data to help you plan trainings and support.

We closed with the warm lead of Dr. Urquiza who facilitated the final panel. My two takeaways here were Dr. Urquiza’s incredible journey from 1978 and how he followed his instinct – he knew there was some truth laying below the surface that we had to understand, a root cause. His first research was to look at 100 consecutive files of children who had come into the psychiatric unit and found that 88 of these children had experienced physical or sexual abuse, confirming his belief that there was an underlying pattern and cause. His commitment over my entire lifetime, is admirable, as was the commitment I sensed in the room from every individual I had the opportunity to meet. My second takeaway from this panel came from Angela Ponivas from the Office of Child Abuse and Prevention. She previously worked for CWD and she recalled a time when the way services were approached was: the court is behind us – so you must engage in services. “Well, that wasn’t very trauma-informed” – she affirmed. No, it certainly was not. But, I hear ways in which people still approach this work in a similar manner, and quite frankly it turns my stomach.

When I dipped my toes into education in my teenage years, and knew in my core that this was my calling, it wasn’t for any set contract, it was for the child in me and the incredible, beautiful, radiant children and families that I grew up with and knew were never given a first chance to become their true and full selves in a way that we dreamed as children. It was the repeated trauma that we couldn’t name and just took as if it were god given rain on our faces and the way of the world. It was for all the roses that grew from concrete and all the roses that were snipped before they could ever flourish. This work is a life commitment and a commitment to a liberated life. I do this work because I believe in children and families. I am here because I believe that children need firm roots and nourished wings.

This is what feeds my hope.

My gratitude today is our time and opportunity to grow as R&Rs into our full selves – it’s an incredible time to be an Emergency Child Care Bridge for Foster Children County!!! What a great time for us to be here in R&R collectively framing how to transform and elevate our work! And what an amazing group of partners – folks, I felt like my crew grew and I can’t wait for us all to come together on this journey.

What is your hope? What brings you into this work?

Please, truly – share in the comments below…

With hope and gratitude, d


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