How One Philadelphia After-school Program Works to Be Trauma-informed

Philadelphia: Group of teenages, sitting and standing, pose with one adult.

Photos by Sunrise of Philadelphia

Sunrise works with students at schools in Philadelphia.

On an afternoon in October, kids in the Sunrise of Philadelphia after-school program made tissue-paper marigolds, assembled little altars and created masks. It was the Day of the Dead celebration held by Sunrise partner, Fleisher Art Memorial.

They wrote poems about people who were no longer with them, either lost to death or simply separated across distance — a possibility in this largely immigrant and refugee community.

The activity gave them a chance to explore loss and sadness, which — perhaps unintentionally — fit right into Sunrise’s focus of being a trauma-informed organization.

“One of the things you can do with your staff and students [in a trauma-informed organization] is help them make sense of their experiences,” said Marina Fradera, trauma and curriculum specialist at Sunrise. She is leading the effort to integrate an understanding of trauma into Sunrise’s programs and practices.

[Related: Avoid Simplistic Thinking About Trauma-informed Care, Some Say]

[Related: LA’s Best Sees Increase in Mental Health Issues, Responds with a Focus on Trauma]

Out-of-school time organizations across the country are increasingly exploring ways to serve students impacted by trauma, but few are taking a comprehensive approach, according to a report recently released by the expanded learning unit in the Los Angeles County Office of Education and by LA’s Best.

Most begin by using their resources to train staff, wrote report author Jimena Quiroga Hopkins. 

But how do they incorporate the new knowledge into their programs?

Fradera said the four principles delineated by the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) are a guide for organizations:

  • Realize the widespread impact of trauma and the potential paths for recovery
  • Recognize the signs and symptoms
  • Respond by fully integrating knowledge about trauma into policies, procedures and practices
  • Resist retraumatization. 

“Trauma-informed care is often referred to as a paradigm shift as well as a set of strategies,” she said.

But practices can be implemented in a structured way, she said.

The hard places

Sunrise is a 20-year-old nonprofit that serves about 1,000 students in after-school programs at five K-8 schools and one high school, most of which are in South Philadelphia. It’s a low-income area where most of the kids are impacted by poverty.

A 2012 survey of adults’ adverse childhood experiences in urban areas of Philadelphia found that 40% had witnessed violence while growing up (seeing a stabbing, shooting or beating) and 34% reported racial or ethnic discrimination. Twenty-four percent had lived in a household with a member who was mentally ill, and nearly 13% had a household member who was sentenced or served time in prison.

Adverse childhood experiences are not the same thing as trauma, but trauma occurs when the events overwhelm one’s ability to cope.

“Kids have it tough in our community,” said Vincent Litrenta, founder and executive director of Sunrise. It’s always been important to be trauma-sensitive, he said.

Through a 21st Century Community Learning Centers grant and assistance from the local United Way, Sunrise began training staff in 2018 at Lakeside, a Philadelphia trauma training institute and operator of therapeutic schools. 

Currently 60 staff members have been trained, and 15, including two directors and all site supervisors, have taken a longer course, Fradera said. Sunrise also brought partners to the training, including people from the Promise neighborhood where one after-school site is located, and the refugee services agency SEAMAAC.

Giving staff the tools and resources to address their own stress is an important element.

Philadelphia: Paper dolls with words pasted on them

Students were encouraged to find positive words about themselves at the most recent teen trauma workshop.

Staff members devise a “safety plan,” Fradera said. She is referring to actions as simple as drinking a glass of water or taking deep breaths.

“If you plan it out now, you don’t have to think about it in the moment,” she said.

Trauma-informed practice is also about managing staff expectations of what a kid is capable of when they’re upset, Fradera said.

Staff learn to see that behavior, learning and relationship problems that kids have may be natural reactions to trauma and deserve to be handled with care and understanding, according to the recent Child Trends report “How to Implement Trauma-Informed Care to Build Resilience to Childhood Trauma.”

When kids are upset and acting out, it does no good to give an ultimatum or talk about consequences, Fradera said. At a certain level of upset, kids literally can’t process it. Part of the training about trauma is learning how the brain behaves.

When kids are upset, “give them language,” she said. Narrate the behavior, she said, by saying things like “This is upsetting.”

Give them space to calm down, she said. Once escalation has passed, kids may appear visibly tired, she said.

“That’s a point at which conversation can happen,” and that’s when consequences can be discussed, she said.

Staff at Sunrise tell her they’re giving kids “wait time.” “They say they no longer yell.” 

Developing resilience in kids

Children and youth who have experienced trauma can later be impacted in both positive and negative ways that influence their ability to cope and heal.

The language around trauma can sometimes lead to people feeling hopeless, Fradera said. “But people impacted by trauma can heal,” she said.

Resilience is the ability to bounce back, and protective factors are the padding that allow for resilience, she said. Youth development programs are already positioned to provide many protective factors.

Some of those factors as enumerated by the National Child Traumatic Stress Network are:

  • Support from friends and surrounding adults
  • Being in an environment that feels safe
  • Positive sense of self-worth
  • Sense of self-efficacy
  • Developing talents or skills
  • Developing coping skills.

Specific activities at Sunrise include use of the book “Once I Was Very Very Scared” with younger children. It’s a jumping-off point for talking about fears and healthy ways to self-soothe, Fradera said.

The organization also will be using the resource Sesame Street in Communities, which explores topics including parental incarceration, divorce and addiction.

Sunrise is planning to use a curriculum from Storiez, which helps teenagers create a narrative around a difficult experience.

Last summer, teens in a Philadelphia youth employment program worked in jobs Monday through Thursday and came to Sunrise on Friday for what was termed professional development. In addition to learning job skills such as phone etiquette, they talked about what to do when feeling stressed at a workplace.

To Litrenta, a trauma-informed practice is about addressing the whole child. Partnerships with other organizations are very important, he said. A partnership with schools allows the school and after-school program to work together to meet the needs of kids, and partnerships with community organizations help Sunrise connect kids with mental health and other services, he said.

This story has been updated.

The post How One Philadelphia After-school Program Works to Be Trauma-informed appeared first on Youth Today.


Avoid Simplistic Thinking About Trauma-informed Care, Some Say

trauma: A very grumpy young girl with green eyes

Jo millington/Shutterstock

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As the effort to be trauma informed sweeps across youth-serving agencies, some who research and treat trauma are urging people to think more carefully and critically about it.

The word trauma is used too loosely, said Michael S. Scheeringa, author and vice chair of research for psychiatry at Tulane University School of Medicine. For more than two decades, he has researched, treated and taught about stress, trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Stress is not trauma, he said.

“Of the people who experience life-threatening trauma, only about 30% develop PTSD,” he said.

As for schools and youth-serving organizations that are trying to implement trauma-informed practices, “people are trying to figure out what it means. … they don’t really know,” Scheeringa said.

The traditional work of screening children and referring them for services or treatment is the right type of practice, he said. “If they start giving kids messages that trauma permanently damages the brain” that’s wrong.

[Related: How One Philadelphia After-school Program Works to Be Trauma-informed]

[Related: LA’s Best Sees Increase in Mental Health Issues, Responds with a Focus on Trauma]

Scheeringa said the work around trauma is being seen as a panacea — a way to address wide-ranging social problems that cannot be solved that way.

“A lot of people have been looking for ways to improve the world … and they want to get the attention of policymakers.” As a result, the language around trauma has gotten overblown, he said.

Consequences or coping strategies?

Child psychiatrist David Rettew has another concern. It’s the risk of moving too far away from behavioral approaches, he wrote in a blog for Psychology Today.

A behavioral approach with kids involves explaining consequences to problematic behavior, while a solely trauma-centered approach is about offering support, comfort and coping strategies, according to the blog.

What adults need to do is make a choice about which approach is best in the moment, he wrote.

“Institutions may do well to mirror the approach of astute parents who recognize that, even within the same individual, there are times when a behavioral outburst is under a child’s control and instances when no amount of incentives or consequences are going to bring a child back to baseline,” Rettew wrote.

The point is to avoid dogmatic thinking about any one approach: “When cornered, most mental health professionals will acknowledge that the behavioral versus trauma-informed debate is a false dichotomy, with both approaches having value,” he wrote.

Other thinkers have criticized a culture of “safetyism,” which they describe as an overfocus on emotional fragility, particularly on college campuses. Social psychologist Jonathan Haidt and fellow author Greg Lukianoff make this case in their book “The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure.” They also point to “concept creep around ideas such as trauma, which has shifted from a clear definition “to mean almost anything one experiences that is physically or emotionally harmful.”

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LA’s Best Sees Increase in Mental Health Issues, Responds with a Focus on Trauma

LA’s Best: Adult kneels between small boy and girl staring at each other.

LA’s Best

A coach at LA’s Best Afterschool Enrichment Program in Los Angeles helps kids communicate. LA’s Best has been integrating trauma-informed practices throughout the organization.

The increase of mental health problems in kids is one of the reasons LA’s Best, an after-school provider serving 25,000 children in Los Angeles, has turned its attention to trauma.

“What’s dramatically up is anxiety and depression,” said Eric Gurna, president and CEO, citing national figures.

LA’s Best serves kids ages 5 to 12 in some of the most economically distressed neighborhoods of Los Angeles.

While adverse childhood experiences occur in all socioeconomic and racial groups, “children growing up in conditions of poverty have significantly more exposure to [these] experiences,” Gurna said.

[Related: How One Philadelphia After-school Program Works to Be Trauma-informed]

[Related: Avoid Simplistic Thinking About Trauma-informed Care, Some Say]

He’s worked in the after-school field since the 1990s. However, he notes an increase in disturbing behavior among kids in LA’s Best, including expressing suicidal thoughts and cutting themselves.

“It’s happening a lot more than in previous years,” he said.

As a result, three years ago LA’s Best began a comprehensive effort to adopt trauma-informed practices.

Initially, Gurna was reluctant to get the organization involved with mental health professionals.

He was concerned about research showing that kids in poverty and kids of color are overdiagnosed with mental health conditions and overprescribed with medications.

“We wanted to be sure not to take an overly political approach so as not to contribute to that,” he said.

But Gurna was also inspired by school mental health leaders who were moving toward a goal of trauma-informed schools.

Staff training first

LA’s Best is a public-private partnership of the city, the Los Angeles Unified School District and the private sector. It has 2,000 staff members and after-school programs in 200 schools.

“We started with pretty intensive professional development of our leadership so we as an organization could really understand the short and long-term impact of trauma,” Gurna said. “What’s most interesting to us is how we can create the conditions in our program for children to develop protective factors which will help them to be more resilient.”

LA’s Best began to integrate the information throughout the organization, including new staff orientation and site coordinator training. The staff developed a common vocabulary and learned new practices to help kids ground themselves and regulate their emotions. It adopted Sanford Harmony, a social-emotional learning program that, among other things, helps frontline staff, mostly ages 18 to 24, frame their conversations with kids, Gurna said.

“Our staff are young adults. They’re not trained social workers or teachers,” he said. “We’re asking a lot of them. We have to put resources in their hands.”

The organization also created a full-time position known as the director of wellness, held by a psychiatric social worker from LAUSD.

“That person’s job is to support our staff in crisis response,” Gurna said.

In recent years, the organization was impacted by crimes in the communities it serves. In one high-profile case, three children who went to one of the schools where LA’s Best is located were murdered by their father.

“We really saw the waves of trauma that happened as a result of this,” Gurna said.

While all crises are not of that magnitude, staff members need to be able to get assistance. Gurna hopes to have a similar professional in each of the organization’s five regions.

The director of wellness also integrates information about trauma into all the training.

LA’s Best is also working with the Nathanson Family Resilience Center at the University of California at Los Angeles to adapt a family resilience training program for after-school use.

The post LA’s Best Sees Increase in Mental Health Issues, Responds with a Focus on Trauma appeared first on Youth Today.


What’s driving erosion worldwide?

ETH Zurich researchers are reexamining the causes of soil erosion around the world—and have found that countries themselves have a surprisingly strong influence on their soil. This country effect was previously undetected.

Youth STEM and Environmental Education Grants

OUR GRANT OPPORTUNITIES: Youth Today’s grant listings are carefully curated for our subscribers working in youth-related industries. Subscribers will find local, state, regional and national grant opportunities.

THIS GRANT’S FOCUS: Education, STEM, Environmental Education
Deadline: Feb. 1, 2020

“The American Honda Foundation engages in grant making that reflects the basic tenets, beliefs and philosophies of Honda companies, which are characterized by the following qualities: imaginative, creative, youthful, forward-thinking, scientific, humanistic and innovative. We support youth education with a specific focus on the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subjects in addition to the environment… Funding Priority: Youth education, specifically in the areas of science, technology, engineering, mathematics, the environment, job training and literacy.”

Funder: The American Honda Foundation
Eligibility: “Nonprofit charitable organizations classified as a 501(c) (3) public charity by the Internal Revenue Service, or a public school district, private/public elementary and secondary schools as listed by the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) are eligible for funding.”
Amount: $20,000 – $75,000
Contact: Link.


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American-Japanese Culture and Language K-12 Education Project Grants

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THIS GRANT’S FOCUS: Education, K-12, Cultural Education, Foreign Language Learning
Deadline:
Dec. 15, 2019 (LOI)

“The United States-Japan Foundation supports innovative education projects that help young Americans and Japanese learn about each other’s society, culture, and country as well as learn to work together on issues of common concern. The Foundation focuses on K-12 education and throughout its history has been at the forefront of supporting teacher professional development projects that train US teachers to teach about Japan and Japanese teachers to teach about the United States. In addition, the Foundation funds projects that work directly with students, that develop top quality curriculum materials on America or Japan for educational audiences in the other country, that connect schools and classrooms in the US and Japan, and that develop and improve instruction in Japanese language.”

Funder: The United States-Japan Foundation
Eligibility:
Unspecified
Amount:
Unspecified
Contact:
Link.


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American-Japanese Culture and Language K-12 Education Project Grants

OUR GRANT OPPORTUNITIES: Youth Today’s grant listings are carefully curated for our subscribers working in youth-related industries. Subscribers will find local, state, regional and national grant opportunities.

THIS GRANT’S FOCUS: Education, K-12, Cultural Education, Foreign Language Learning
Deadline:
Dec. 15, 2019 (LOI)

“The United States-Japan Foundation supports innovative education projects that help young Americans and Japanese learn about each other’s society, culture, and country as well as learn to work together on issues of common concern. The Foundation focuses on K-12 education and throughout its history has been at the forefront of supporting teacher professional development projects that train US teachers to teach about Japan and Japanese teachers to teach about the United States. In addition, the Foundation funds projects that work directly with students, that develop top quality curriculum materials on America or Japan for educational audiences in the other country, that connect schools and classrooms in the US and Japan, and that develop and improve instruction in Japanese language.”

Funder: The United States-Japan Foundation
Eligibility:
Unspecified
Amount:
Unspecified
Contact:
Link.


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TX Rural Community Library Support Grants

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THIS GRANT’S FOCUS: Library Support, Education, Community, Reading, Rural Youth
Deadline:
Jan. 15, 2020

“The Tocker Foundation is dedicated to the support of rural libraries of Texas. Our grant-making focuses on inviting, open patron spaces, community connectivity, effective use of technology, digitization of public records as an extension of services, and a robust community resource with programming and accessibility for patrons of all ages. We encourage the evolution of libraries in the digital age by helping those in rural parts of the state to respond to the rapid pace of change… Categories: (1) General Library Improvement, (2) Digitization, (3) Automation, (4) Professional Development.”

Funder: The Tocker Foundation
Eligibility:
“Communities in the state of Texas that serve a population of 12,000 or less according to statistics from the Texas State Library database. County libraries may use the city population rather than the assigned county population when determining the eligibility.”
Amount:
Unspecified
Contact:
Link.


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TX Rural Community Library Support Grants

OUR GRANT OPPORTUNITIES: Youth Today’s grant listings are carefully curated for our subscribers working in youth-related industries. Subscribers will find local, state, regional and national grant opportunities.

THIS GRANT’S FOCUS: Library Support, Education, Community, Reading, Rural Youth
Deadline:
Jan. 15, 2020

“The Tocker Foundation is dedicated to the support of rural libraries of Texas. Our grant-making focuses on inviting, open patron spaces, community connectivity, effective use of technology, digitization of public records as an extension of services, and a robust community resource with programming and accessibility for patrons of all ages. We encourage the evolution of libraries in the digital age by helping those in rural parts of the state to respond to the rapid pace of change… Categories: (1) General Library Improvement, (2) Digitization, (3) Automation, (4) Professional Development.”

Funder: The Tocker Foundation
Eligibility:
“Communities in the state of Texas that serve a population of 12,000 or less according to statistics from the Texas State Library database. County libraries may use the city population rather than the assigned county population when determining the eligibility.”
Amount:
Unspecified
Contact:
Link.


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Environmental Education Project Support Grants

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THIS GRANT’S FOCUS: Environmental Education, Education, Education Technology, STEM
Deadline: Jan. 15, 2020

“ecoTech™ Grants were created to combat the notion that students needed to choose between “the screen” or “the green” and to encourage educators and students to explore the role technology can play in designing and implementing solutions to some of our most pressing environmental challenges. We believe that technology can present innovative ways to address environmental challenges – and that when dealing with digital natives, we do ourselves a disservice by asking them to unplug.

Originally developed in partnership with the Ray C. Anderson Foundation and now funded with ongoing support from Voya Financial Foundation, ecoTech™ Grants are specifically offered to engage children in inquiry-based, STEM-related projects that leverage technology and/or use nature-based design to address environmental problems in local communities.

Examples of previous ecoTech™ Grant funded projects have involved: the integration of robotics and sensors to explore water bodies, collect data, and organize clean-ups; the development of aquaponic and hydroponic systems using arduinos and remote sensing; renewable energy design challenges; biotechnology research; nature-based design applications; and many others.”

Funder: The Captain Planet Foundation and Voya Financial Foundation
Eligibility: “Applicant organizations eligible for monetary support through Captain Planet Foundation must: (1) Be exempt from federal taxation under the IRS Section 501 (includes most schools and nonprofit organizations), or have a fiscal sponsor that meets this criterion, (2) Maintain an annual operating budget of less than $3 million.”
Amount: Up to $2,500
Contact: Link. 


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CT Nonprofit Childcare, Culture, Education and Healthcare Grants

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THIS GRANT’S FOCUS: Childcare, Education, Culture, Healthcare, Connecticut
Deadline:
Dec. 13, 2019 (LOI)

“CHEFA’s grant program was established in 2002 to make grants to nonprofit organizations that provide essential health, educational, cultural, and childcare services to the residents of the State of Connecticut. CHEFA is accepting proposals for capital projects/purchases, and programs from organizations whose mission statement AND the capital project/purchase, or program, are related to any of the following focus areas, as determined by CHEFA in its sole discretion:

  • Childcare (including before and after-school programming)
  • Cultural (including museums, theaters, etc.)
  • Education (including workforce/vocational training and youth summer jobs)
  • Healthcare (including wellness and senior living).”

Funder: The Connecticut Health and Educational Facilities Authority (CHEFA)
Eligibility:
“Applicant organizations must have current IRS 501(c)(3) tax-exempt designation, or be public educational institutions that are constituent units as defined in C.G.S.§10a-1.”
Amount:
$5,000 – $75,000
Contact:
Link.


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Underserved Children and Youth Dental Care Access Program Grants

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THIS GRANT’S FOCUS: Healthcare Access, Underserved Children/Youth, Dental Care, Community
Deadline:
Dec. 20, 2019

“AAPD Foundation is committed to supporting community-based initiatives providing Dental Homes to children whose families cannot afford dental care. The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry defines a Dental Home as the ongoing relationship between the dentist and the patient, inclusive of all aspects of oral health care, delivered in a comprehensive, continuously accessible, coordinated, and family-centered way. One way the Foundation supports this goal is through one-year Access to Care Grants in support of care for children up to age 18. Access to Care Grants support community-based initiatives in the U.S. that provide dental care and ultimately serve as a Dental Home to underserved/limited access children.

Qualified initiatives must be dentist-led, with priority given to projects with pediatric dentist leadership. Projects led by general practitioners also may apply.”

Funder: The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD) Foundation
Eligibility:
“Must be a United States /U.S. Territory applicant/organization providing care to children in the U.S. or a U.S. Territory. Qualified applicants/organizations include, but are not limited to:

  1. Nonprofit 501(c)(3) or 501 (c)(6) organizations
  2. Local health jurisdictions
  3. County health departments
  4. Hospitals and clinics
  5. State government agencies
  6. Colleges/schools of dentistry
  7. Colleges/schools of medicine (pediatric and family medicine departments only)
  8. National,state and local dental societies.”

Amount: Up to $20,000
Contact:
Link.


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