Author Archives: Kristin Lennox

  1. Youth Power, Promise, and Policy – Celebrating Young Leaders in Advocacy this Session

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    Young people were seen and heard all over the General Assembly (GA) this session. The Voices Advocacy & Engagement Team lead our third annual youth advocacy day on January 16. On President’s Day, we were honored to support Pretty Purposed with their third annual advocacy efforts alongside Voices’ 2023 Amplify Award awardees, Elijah and Aaron during the Fund Our Schools Lobby Day. 

    Virginia’s Youth in Action Advocacy Day 

    Virginia’s Youth in Action with program staff, Flo, Sophia, and Kristin

    This year’s members of Virginia’s Youth in Action (VAYA) traveled from different corners of the state to convene in Richmond on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. VAYA alum, Jaynae, who returned to support this year’s efforts, acknowledged the federal holiday as a day of action. Also returning were MJ and Aaliyana who have now advocated at the GA for their third year in a row! The returning advocates supported this year’s VAYA through community building and practicing their storytelling for the next day of advocacy. 

    Advocates began at the downtown Marriott early the next morning. We joined together for breakfast and shared powerful affirmations before starting the day of advocacy. Collectively, VAYA advocates met with 16 legislative offices. Sophia, Voices’ Advocacy & Engagement Manager, spent months assisting VAYA members with preparing their powerful remarks and stories. VAYA advocates focused on areas such as: 

    • Youth mental health, in schools and crisis services 
    • School infrastructure 
    • Language access 
    • Black maternal health & health equity
    • Child welfare and foster care 
    • Special education staffing and resources 

    Voices staff and Virginia’s Youth in Action pose together after the bipartisan mental health press conference

    In a bipartisan press conference focused on mental health, Amirah and Liz shared personal stories and calls to action in favor of more accessible and diverse mental health resources for young people in Virginia. Amirah expanded upon the necessity of more diverse therapists and clinicians for all Virginians, while Liz uplifted the need for more language-accessible resources in rural regions. 

    (From left to right) Jojo and Sophia meeting with Del. Rae Cousins

    “I enjoyed how supportive everyone was, even the legislators” – Jojo 

    Reflecting on the day, VAYA members shared that being in person with their peers was an incredible experience. They also expressed immense gratitude to the Advocacy & Engagement Team and Voices for their support leading to and throughout the day. VAYA members shared that it was empowering to see a diverse representation of women and femmes in policy and advocacy during our time together. Participants remarked on how supported they felt. They expressed surprise and appreciation for how receptive lawmakers were to their dreams and ideas, and how empowered they felt being able to tell their stories.

    Fund Our Schools Coalition Lobby Day & Rally 

    An aerial view of advocates preparing for the Fund Our Schools Rally

    On President’s Day, the Advocacy & Engagement Team stewarded youth and staff from Pretty Purposed, a youth mentoring agency focused on supporting young girls and femmes throughout the Southside region. We participated in the first lobby day and rally hosted by the Fund Our Schools Coalition. Youth leaders and co-presidents of Voters of Tomorrow Virginia, Elijah and Aaron, supported the day of lobbying. Raegan, Lauren, & Khloe discussed their hopes for improving their schools and communities including: 

    • School infrastructure 
    • Nutrition and access to clean water 
    • Recreational activities, opportunities, and spaces 
    • Equitable education resources 
    • School-based mental health 

    Pretty Purposed staff and participants pose with Del. Sewell after a warm reception and meeting

    That afternoon, Elijah and Aaron joined community members and educators to deliver empowering and thought-provoking remarks during a rally at the Capitol Bell Tower. Pretty Purposed members proudly volunteered to hold the “Fund Our Schools” banner in support. 

    “As my friends move throughout the day, some will run into times when they are in dire need of a counselor. From here, they will go meet with this amazing woman that has a caseload of 350 students, despite the recommended ratio being only 250.” – Elijah 

    Co-presidents of Voters of Tomorrow, Elijah and Aaron, deliver remarks at the Fund Our Schools Rally

    “Rise up! Take your stand! Use your voice! Get active! And do not let anyone stop you! Right now, we need you to amplify the voices of young people and educators.” – Aaron 

    As the day of advocacy ended, Raegan (a Pretty Purposed participant and student body Treasurer) remarked on her new interest and passion for influencing policy. She discussed her piqued interest in exploring the House or Senate page programs so she could be in the exciting atmosphere again. 

    Pretty Purposed posing at the iconic Barbara Johns statue

    Young people are the experts in what their schools and communities need to thrive, and we can see their passion and enthusiasm for influencing the systems that affect us all. Voices has deep gratitude for the everyday champions who empower and encourage young people to help develop them into leaders and advocates for their schools and communities. We remain impressed, challenged, and changed by witnessing and listening to young advocates. 

    If you are or you know a young person eager to make positive changes in Virginia policy, we invite you to connect with our team! 

     

    Kristin Lennox,
    Director of Engagement,
    kristin@vakids.org 

     

     

     

    Sophia Booker,
    Advocacy & Engagement Manager,
    sophia@vakids.org  

  2. Healing for the Healers 2024: Recap & Reflections

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    On Tuesday, January 23, Voices joined with ChildSavers for our second iteration of Healing for the Healers – an advocacy day event created to uplift policy for youth mental and behavioral health, with the mission of centering the stories and experiences of providers and healers in the community. This recap includes quotes and stories from advocates, provided anonymously with permission to share. 

    Advocates pose together in the foyer of the General Assembly Building

    This year, we encouraged registrants to expand whom they consider to be “healers” to include parents, caregivers, teachers, community leaders, providers, and administrators in mental and behavioral health. This helped us assemble a truly diverse group of advocates with lived and living experience in Virginia’s mental and behavioral health systems – both as consumers and providers.  

    Kristin Lennox, Director of Engagement, led a hybrid training on mental health advocacy at ChildSavers

    “I advocate for youth mental health because their wellbeing is key to a healthy community. We are all connected. As a mother, former teacher, and youth programs leader I want to exist in a world where young people are well, sufficiently resourced, and supported. I see the disparities our youth face firsthand, yet I’m inspired by how they show up boldly and creatively. They deserve better.” 

    Together, about twenty-five advocates met with sixteen delegates and senators and their offices to share our priorities on youth behavioral and mental health, with a focus on school-based mental health, workforce development, and crisis services for young people.

    Advocates meeting with Del. Rae Cousins

    “I am a believer that tomorrow can always be better than yesterday, so I am an advocate for youth mental health because they are the future. To do better by them, we need provide the proper tools, remove the barriers, and set better examples. When they are better, we will all be better at improving the human condition.” 

    Advocates reflected on who or why they were moved to mental health advocacy.

    “I think it is important to be open about mental health to de-stigmatize it. The less we talk about it in public the bigger the barrier is, I really want to show other people that it is okay to be open about mental health and it is the first step towards normalizing the belief that it is okay not to be okay.” 

    Advocates sharing stories with staff of Del. Askew’s office.

    “I am an advocate for youth mental health because I have seen far too many people succumb to the long-term impact of childhood trauma. Fostering emotional well-being, healthy communities, and trauma-informed schools is crucial for youth mental health. Young people may zone out, act out, drop out, or flip out without wrap-around support. We empower them by raising awareness and dismantling stigma. Promoting prevention programs and addressing mental health challenges early leads to healthier and more resilient communities.” 

    Advocates posing with Sen. Boysko.

    “I advocate for youth mental health because it’s often overlooked. People write it off as phases or just an off day, but mental health is just as real in youth as it is in adults. I advocate because I want to dismantle the stigma that kids are always happy and when they aren’t it’s something wrong with them. In today’s society there is so many things youth are exposed to and it’s time we provide resources for them to adequately support them not demonize them.” 

    Advocates with staff from Sen. Jordan’s office.

    “I have been involved with receiving services as a youth, providing services for youth, and advocating for improving access and availability of appropriate treatment options for youth in the Commonwealth for most of my life. I know that we can do better and we owe it to the young people who depend on us to show them that they matter and deserve the opportunity to live their best life. If we don’t show that we see them and believe they have inherent value by providing them all the tools they need to succeed we will continue to lose them to the unhealthy coping mechanisms available (substance use, self harm, suicide) because that is all they have until we provide them with healthy, effective alternatives. I don’t want to bury another nephew or niece because I could not get them access to the help they needed when they needed it.” 

    Alex Gúzman congregates with advocates before meeting with lawmakers.

    The Voices team is deeply grateful to continue to work in collaboration with our partners including Alex Gúzman of ChildSavers and John Richardson-Lauve of St. Joseph’s Villa. We appreciate their willing leadership towards this day of advocacy and for all of their ongoing work in support of youth behavioral and mental health in Virginia.

    To learn about future advocacy opportunities and weekly policy updates, sign up for our Voices from the Capitol email.

  3. Healing for the Healers: Our 2024 Policy Priorities

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    On January 23, 2024, Voices for Virginia’s Children and ChildSavers are joining together to host Healing for the Healers – an advocacy day to uplift policy for youth mental health and the healers who support them. We recognize healers as parents, caregivers, peers, school staff & administrators, licensed mental health professionals, community leaders, and beyond. Healing comes in many forms and can occur in many places – in the community, in families, in peer groups, in schools, and in medical settings. 

    Below is a summary of the policy priorities we will be emphasizing on our shared advocacy day. Our overall hopes are to influence school-based mental health, workforce development, and crisis response services. Please note that this is not an exhaustive list of the policy changes that Voices is pursuing under mental and behavioral health or health equity. A key can be found at the bottom of this post to assist with defining terms and organizations.

    Advocates can register to attend the 2024 Healing for the Healers by completing this form. Attendees will receive training (hybrid options, with dinner included for in-person), technical assistance, and assistance with parking and transportation to the General Assembly Building. With a max capacity of 30 attendees, we request that advocates only register if they are confident they can attend the in-person advocacy day on January 23 in Richmond, VA. Contact Kristin Lennox, kristin@vakids.org, for additional inquiries or to cancel registration.

    Our Policy Priorities 

    School-Based Mental Health 

    As the youth mental health crisis in Virginia persists, young people have been clear: they are demanding more mental health services in their schools. They want more than fifteen minutes of academic advising and are asking for more licensed professionals to address and support their mental and behavioral health needs during the school day and beyond. 

    • Support Continued Funding of the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services (DBHDS) School-Based Mental Health Integration Pilot Program: 
      • Recommended by the Behavioral Health Commission (BHC): Support $7.5 million in funding for FY25 and $7.5 million in FY26 to continue and expand the DBHDS School-Based Mental Health Services Pilot Program which has supported some school divisions to contract with community-based mental health agencies (CSBs) to provide mental health services within schools.  
    • Review School-Based Mental Health Service Options and Workforce Requirements: 
      • Provide funding to the Department of Medical Assistance Services (DMAS) to complete a review of Multi-Tiered School Based Behavioral Health Services (see below) including (1) whether and how to redesign Therapeutic Day Treatment (TDT), and (2) how to appropriately fund the number of mental health providers needed to deliver the identified services.
    •  
    • Streamline Funding for School-Based Mental Health Services: Funding for school-based mental health is currently not efficient nor is it flexible in addressing the various needs of young people and the needs of the mental health workforce. 
      • BHC Recommendation: Direct the Department of Education (DOE) to collaborate with DBHDS and DMAS on a plan for creating a new program to provide flexible mental health funds to school divisions for having school-based mental health services. This plan will also include assisting the divisions with billing Medicaid, reimbursing community-based partners quickly, and assessing the success of each division’s programming.  
      • BHC Recommendation: Support one-time funding for current pilot school divisions to maintain school-based mental health services in FY25 until additional funding is found.  
    • Support Funding for one full-time position at the DOE to provide Virginia School Divisions with technical assistance with billing Medicaid for school-based services.  

    Workforce Development 

    We cannot adequately address the youth mental health crisis without a diverse workforce, which includes sustainably training, paying, and retaining licensed mental health professionals. 

    • Streamline Medicaid Reimbursement: This refers to the amount that Medicaid insurance companies (like Virginia Premier and Anthem Healthkeepers, etc.) pay providers for mental and behavioral health services that have already been delivered. 
      • Authorize reimbursements for care coordination services (also known as case management services) for community-based providers. 
      • Protect the 10% Medicaid reimbursement rate increase for community-based mental health services. 
      • Increase Medicaid reimbursement rates for community-based mental health services to reflect the true cost of care. 
      • Authorize DMAS to establish processes and procedures for an annual adjustment to reimbursement rates for Medicaid-funded mental health services to address inflation. 
      • Support DMAS rate study on mental health parity, to ensure reimbursement amounts for behavioral health services are the same across different treatment settings, i.e., schools vs pediatricians’ offices vs community services agencies. 
    • Remove Barriers to Licensure for all Behavioral Health Professionals, such as Clinical Social Workers, Psychologists, Psychiatrists, Counselors, and Behavioral Analysts.  
      • Support increased state funding for psychiatric residencies, specifically child psychiatry. 
      • Research done for the “Right Help, Right Now” priorities highlighted that 88 of Virginia’s 128 localities have no child psychiatrists.  
      • By recommendation of the Virginia Health Workforce Development Authority, loosening strict requirements on behavioral health residencies prior to licensure, such as educational degree requirements for supervisors, supervisor-to-student ratios, addressing the need for supervisors in community settings, and creating opportunities for paid residencies. 
      • Support DBHDS Budget Request to fund initiatives to expand the youth mental health workforce through analyzing the current unlicensed mental health workforce in Virginia to understand barriers to licensure and develop opportunities for post-graduate trainings or certificates to better serve youth. 
      • Support DBHDS Budget Request to increase the number of clinical training sites at state-operated agencies for medical residents, nurses, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, and other licensed mental health professionals. 
    • Expand Behavioral Health Loan Repayment 
      • Increase funding for the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) Behavioral Health Loan Repayment Program. Specifically, refine criteria to direct clinical staff towards agencies and nonprofits treating high-risk children and youth, especially in underserved areas of Virginia. 

    Crisis Response 

    As Virginia prioritizes crisis response and stabilization services, we must ensure that young people and their unique needs are centered in the development of these new processes 

    • Support Funding for Mobile Crisis Teams
    • Support the Establishment of a Statewide Network of Community-Based Crisis Receiving Centers (CRCs) and Crisis Receiving and Stabilization Centers (CRSCs)
    • Support funding of Comprehensive Psychiatric Emergency Programs (CPEP)

    Key Terms and Organizations

    • Behavioral Health Commission (BHC): The Behavioral Health Commission (BHC) was established in 2021 as a new standing commission of the Virginia General Assembly to study and make recommendations for the improvement of behavioral health services and the behavioral health service system in the Commonwealth. The Commission is composed of 12 state legislators charged with encouraging the adoption of policies that will provide Virginians with access to a full continuum of high-quality and efficient behavioral health services.  
    • Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services (DBHDS): A state agency with the mission of “supporting individuals by promoting recovery, self-determination, and wellness in all aspects of life.” DBHDS hosts emergency information, the “Right Help. Right Now.” campaign, development disabilities services, and substance use disorder services. 
    • Department of Medical Assistance Services (DMAS): The agency that administers Virginia’s Medicaid program with a mission of “improving the health and well-being of Virginians through access to high-quality health care coverage.” 
    • Crisis Receiving Centers: From St. Joseph’s Villa, “The primary goal of the CRC is to divert inpatient hospitalization and reduce the community’s reliance on seeking behavioral healthcare in hospital emergency departments. Open 24/7 for walk-in for service, the CRC will provide rapid and comprehensive assessment, crisis intervention services, and linkages to resources that would allow individuals to be treated in their own community…. By accelerating access to high-quality treatment, the CRC will reduce youth hospitalizations and out-of-state placements, helping to keep families intact.” (Source: St. Joseph’s Villa, Coming Soon: Central Virginia’s first emergency room alternative for youth experiencing mental health crisis”) 
    • Crisis Stabilization Units: From DBHDS, “Crisis receiving and stabilization services offer the community a no-wrong-door access to mental health and substance use care; operating much like a hospital emergency department that accepts all walk-ins, ambulance, fire and police drop-offs. The need to say yes to mental health crisis referrals, including working with persons of varying ages (as allowed within the facility license) and clinical conditions (such as serious emotional disturbances, serious mental illness, intellectual and developmental disabilities), regardless of acuity, informs program staffing, physical space, structure and use of chairs or recliners in lieu of beds that offer far less capacity or flexibility within a given space.” 
    • Comprehensive Psychiatric Emergency Programs: Comprehensive Psychiatric Emergency Services (CPEP) is a 24/7 hospital-based emergency psychiatric program to help patients in a mental health crisis. (Source: Virginia College of Emergency Physicians, Dedicated spaces for emergency mental health patients coming online in Virginia”) 
    • Mobile Crisis: The purpose of this service is to provide prompt crisis intervention with the goal of preventing psychiatric hospitalization, to prevent exacerbation of a condition, and to prevent injury to child or adolescent or others. (Learn more at DBHDS.) 
    • Parity: the state of being equal, especially regarding pay. For example, the basic idea that mental health and addiction care are covered at the same level as care for other health conditions. 

    _______________________________________________________________________

    Register today to attend the 2024 Healing for the Healers by completing this form. Attendees will receive training (hybrid options, with dinner included for in-person), technical assistance, and assistance with parking and transportation to the General Assembly Building. With a max capacity of 30 attendees, we request that advocates only register if they are confident they can attend the in-person advocacy day on January 23 in Richmond, VA. Contact Kristin Lennox, kristin@vakids.org, for additional inquiries or to cancel registration.

  4. Introducing the 2023-24 Members of Virginia’s Youth in Action (VAYA)

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    The Advocacy & Engagement Team has loved getting to know our second cohort of Virginia’s Youth in Action which launched in September. Some recent highlights include celebrating the diversity of this great group, learning the “Virginia Way” of policy together, and most recently meeting with Del. Irene Shin to learn about her journey and experiences as the first Korean American woman delegate in the General Assembly.

    We will spend the next couple of months preparing for our Advocacy Day at the Virginia General Assembly in January.


    Meet this year’s brilliant cohort!

    Amirah | 19 | Northern Virginia

    Nothing changes if nothing changes.

    Amirah is interested in advocacy for criminal justice, foster care, child welfare, early childhood education, economic justice, and racial justice. 


    Ariya | 17 | West Central

    Creativity and drive are more valuable resources than money and intelligence.

    Ariya is interested in advocacy for rural education, early childhood education, community health, and economic justice. 


    Cherokee | 21 | Central Virginia

    “If I was a color, I would be white, vast in my blankness. Pure, whole, virginal, predictable….Boring. The colors thrown at me didn’t bleed into my canvas and leave a mark. The colors washed out with nothing but water. That’s what made this story so hard to remember. It’s hard facing a mirror and seeing all you are made of and all you couldn’t absorb. But I’m open to be changed. To be in a place where I can hold all the colors I love at once, appreciate what they are, and learn from them. I’m open to new beginnings.” – Tiffany Jackson  

    Cherokee is interested in advocacy for food and nutrition, community health, mental health, economic justice, identity and belonging, racial justice. 


    Emnet | 20 | Northern Virginia

    I hope to create positive change in my community and inspire others to do the same.

    Emnet is interested in advocacy for early childhood education, identity and belonging, and mental health. 


    Janiah | 16 | Valley 

    I’m my mother and father, more or less. I’m the product. Of my father, who showed me the meaning of my skin. Of my mother, who taught me what you can’t find in books. From my mother and father, but, I’m me – thirsty for knowledge and what’s hidden beneath the surface.

    Janiah is interested in advocacy for foster care, child welfare, food and nutrition, mental health, identity and belonging, and racial justice and equity. 


    Janai | 24 | Central Virginia

    “Philippians 13: I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” 

    Janai is interested in advocacy for transitioning and placement services, parents rights in teaching curriculum, special education and inclusion, and early childhood education. 


    Jazz | 18 | Central Virginia

    “The bad news is time flies; the good news is you’re the pilot.”

    Jazz is interested in advocacy for mental health, racial justice, and addressing the wealth gap. 


    Josiya | 20 | Central Virginia

    Believing in yourself when no one does is the real talent.

    Josiya is interested in advocacy for foster care, early childhood education, mental health, economic justice, identity and belonging, and racial justice. 


    Kennedy | 18 | Central Virginia

    Change can be a slow process; we must continue to do the work and advocate for legislative change. I fight so that policy is not just politics; that we’re seen, heard, and cared for as a community. I hope they hear my words, see my actions, and understand the impact their decisions have on real people struggling with real issues.

    Kennedy is interested in advocacy for mental health and racial justice. 


    Liz | 16 | Southwest Virginia

    “A man may die, nations may rise and fall, but an idea lives on.”- John F. Kennedy

    Liz is interested in advocacy for foster care, child welfare, early childhood education, food and nutrition, community health, mental health, economic justice, identity and belonging, and racial justice and equity. 


    Micah | 18 | Hampton Roads 

    “It needs to be taken into account that these young kids will one day be our future leaders, but if their burdens and trauma have yet to be addressed and allowed space for healing, that kid may never blossom into the unique person they are.”

    Micah is interested in advocacy for foster care and child welfare, early childhood education, mental health, economic justice, racial justice, and criminal justice. 


    NaDeja | 23 | Central Virginia

    I am here to stand in the gap for marginalized families across Virginia. As a mother myself, my mission is to advocate for the kids we are raising. I am hoping to change the narrative surrounding parental involvement within my community. We are here for our kids, and we do care about policies that impact their lives. I plan to showcase that care.

    NaDeja is interested in advocacy for religious freedom in education, early childhood education, food and nutrition, mental health, economic justice, racial justice and equity, and community health policy areas. 


    Primas | 16 | Hampton Roads

    There is a quote that my grandfather says to me, and it is, ‘If not now, then when,’ and this is something that he has spoken in my life since I can remember. The quote can be used in our daily lives, politics and when helping others. So this is why that little quote means so much to me.

    Primas is interested in advocacy for early childhood education, food and nutrition, racial justice and equity, foster care, child welfare, identity and belonging, economic justice, community health, and mental health. 


    Santiago | 17 | Valley

    “Medice cura te ipsum.”

    Santiago is interested in advocacy for immigration policy, mental health, identity and belonging, and racial justice. 

  5. Healing Centered Engagement in a Trauma-Informed World

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    Above photo caption: Youth advocates rallied together before a day of legislative meetings to share affirmations and words of encouragement with one another.

    Imagine a world where we have all that we need to thrive. Imagine that this world also celebrates all of our intersectionality. Young people’s potential is not predictable by race, socioeconomic status, or geography. In fact, in this world we never would have created the social constructs of race, but if they were to exist, we are celebrating every identity, culture, and nationality for their differences – we embrace the unique and the unfamiliar. Gender and sexual orientation are expansive and fluid. No one feels othered, left out, or invaluable. Everyone feels accepted, included, and cared for.  

    This is the kind of imagination cultivation that healing centered engagement invites us to do. 

    Collective Trauma 

    Trauma-informed care (TIC) has successfully shifted how we parent, educate, and provide care to children and young people. TIC has supported helpers and providers who were experiencing burnout and fatigue reinvigorate their approaches and pivot from asking What’s wrong with you?! to What happened to you?, allowing us to better support youth who have experienced traumatic events. In health care, TIC has had a significant impact on how we diagnose and treat mental health and behavioral issues. TIC gave us the neuroscience, research, and language to better our understanding of how events and environments can influence our physical reactions to stressors and overall behaviors and wellness. In Virginia, we have seen statewide support of more trauma-informed policies and processes, including legislation that provided funding for the development of regional Trauma-Informed Community Networks (or TICNs).  

    Then in 2020, we had to acknowledge and grapple with collective trauma: the global COVID-19 pandemic and the collective racialized trauma of the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and the many Black and Brown individuals, families, and communities that have been victims of systemic racism. Although these events put a spotlight on trauma as a collective experience, the concept of collective trauma is not new to those with generational and historical trauma in their ancestry because of a violent displacement or diaspora. 

    Collective Healing 

    Dr. Shawn Ginwright, thought leader, educator, and founder of the Flourish Agenda, lovingly calls us in. I recall initially finding Dr. Ginwright’s 2018 think piece on Medium to be challenging in its critique of TIC. I was working full-time as a clinician, and I remember feeling defensive of the TIC framework that had helped me to be more compassionate, empathetic, and holistic in my approach to care work and therapy for young people and families. The article highlights the many shortcomings of a deficit-based framework and urges us to consider structural changes rather than merely addressing individual symptoms of trauma. Through his work with young Black activists out of Oakland, California, Dr. Ginwright shares how he came to realize that collective healing was the first step on our path to collective liberation. During a storytelling session, a young scholar shared that young folks are worth more than the things that have happened to them. Young people are aspirational and hopeful and imagine more for themselves beyond their traumatic experiences.  

    Dr. Ginwright reframes our thinking: if trauma can be collective, then so must healing.  

    Healing centered engagement (HCE) is comprised of four tenets. Per Flourish Agenda, the HCE framework…  

    1) is explicitly political, rather than clinical 

    2) is culturally grounded and views healing as the restoration of identity 

    3) is asset driven and focuses on the well-being we want, rather than the symptoms we want to suppress, and 

    4) supports adult providers with their own healing. 

    HCE also examines the individual and interpersonal changes required for institutional change to be truly possible and lasting. 

    “Healing Centered Engagement is a paradigm shift that confronts racism and racial inequity by examining an individual’s core values and beliefs, and the way those values and beliefs can impact our interpersonal relationships as well as our relationship to systems, institutions, policies and practices.” (Flourish Agenda) 

    Healing Centered Engagement at Voices 

    Opportunities to be fully seen and accepted have healing properties. When we can be in community with those that not only accept but embrace our intersectional identities, we feel valued and empowered.  

    When we first assembled Virginia’s Youth in Action, our initial goal was influencing Virginia policy with the wisdom and expertise of young leaders across the state. Naturally, we looked to HCE for guidance. We included personal and cultural storytelling in the group’s orientation session and witnessed our youth leaders quickly become a community, eager to celebrate and root for one another. In the months that we grew and learned together, we did not anticipate the possibility of multigenerational healing. As we prepared for our annual Youth Advocacy Day at the General Assembly, we did not realize we were creating opportunities to strengthen personal and familial narratives as parents and caregivers witnessed the next generation’s advocacy and truth-telling. 

    (Caption: Advocates participated in collaborative artmaking as we imagined better mental health systems for our communities.) 

    We also joined with mental health providers, agencies, and community healers to host Healing for the Healers, an advocacy day with a focus on mental health. Amid the busy, frenzied halls of power, we led a healing circle to reflect on who and what we imagine for our communities. We created intentional space for healing and anchored ourselves in hope and possibility. 

    As we built on our strong foundation in trauma-informed care and realized all of the possibilities in becoming an HCE-forward organization, the Voices team began to look inward. We formed the “Healing, Equity, and Restoration Team,” lovingly abbreviated to HEART. Although still nascent, we know that committing to how we heal and restore ourselves as individuals will help us work better together as colleagues seeking equity and lasting change. 

    Imagination, possibility, creativity, joy, and rest – these are some of the outcomes of leading with HCE that we have witnessed and experienced. We know that healing-centered work is not new to many Virginians, especially Black, Brown and Indigenous communities who incorporate collective healing practices into daily living. We also know that there is still much work to be done in Virginia so that every person in the Commonwealth feels seen, accepted, celebrated, and cared for. We believe HCE can help lead the way, and we invite our colleagues, partners, and communities to join us on the journey. 

  6. Young Advocates Take on the General Assembly

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    On a rainy Tuesday during the first full week of Virginia’s 2023 General Assembly session, eighteen advocates took the Virginia legislature by storm. This group, ranging in age from 13 to 21, included members of Virginia’s Youth in Action, Pretty Purposed, and some returning advocates who had previous virtual advocacy experience.

     

    Youth advocates enjoyed a photo scavenger hunt that took them around Downtown Richmond. Photography by advocate Jonathan Jackson.

    On Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the day before our advocacy day, our staff and youth advocates convened for a full day of training. After some ice breakers and team building, advocates prepared for media opportunities with Shannon Strategies. The Voices policy team worked with advocates in smaller groups to review bills being presented this session and to practice storytelling and public speaking strategies. After a photo scavenger hunt that took youth around downtown Richmond, the group closed the day by making Valentines for legislators and doing final preparations for advocacy day.

    Advocates and the Voices team had fun with Polaroid cameras, provided by The Spark Mill

    Fired up and ready to go! Our Voices team rallied youth advocates for an early morning start from the Marriott. Photography by Ty Begley, Z2B Photography

    Our Youth in Action Advocacy Day started with some grounding and rallying at the Marriott before heading over to the Pocahontas Building.

    Broken into five smaller groups, advocates held an impressive 22 legislative meetings, with several of them meeting their own representatives. Advocates shared personal stories about their experiences with school belonging, school based and crisis mental health, and gun violence.

    Zee and Nya Byrant met with their representative, Del. Hudson.

    Advocacy often includes sharing difficult personal stories, but advocates Kayla, Kennedy, and Ava were able to find joy and laughter throughout the day.

    Starting the day off on a high note with an 8:00 AM meeting with Del. Glass.

    The day culminated in a bipartisan press conference led by VAYA Advocates, Ishika Vij and Heciel Nieves-Bonilla, on the urgent mental health needs of young people. They were joined in support by Senator McClellan, Delegate Brewer, Senator Favola, Senator McPike, and Delegate Rasoul.

    “When I was facing a mental health crisis, my counselor was not properly equipped to connect me to resources, and instead, she waited until there was severe suicidal ideation to provide access to receive additional help. – Ishika Vij

    “Some of the major problems those seeking [mental health support] face is the inequity of service, whether based on poverty level, race, occupation, gender, language, immigration status, transportation capacity, or zip code. – Heciel Nieves-Bonilla

    Watch the full press conference here.

    As Ishika and Heciel proceeded with an interview about student mental health for ABC8 News, advocates met with Secretary of Health & Human Services, Secretary John Littel, to hear more about how the Youngkin administration is approaching regional mental health needs, followed by a brief Q & A.

    Finally, with a last rally through the Capitol, advocates were recognized and celebrated with an introduction in the House (by Delegate Adams) and in the Senate (by Senator Mason).

    The Voices team is inspired and in awe of the incredible and courageous work that our advocates have already done this legislative season and are excited for more to come from Virginia’s Youth in Action. We are thankful to all the supporters and hosts we met at the General Assembly and the Capitol. We are so grateful to Ty Begley of Z2B Photography for capturing our most precious moments throughout the day. We are also thankful for our advocates’ greatest cheerleaders and champions – the parents, guardians, educators, and helpers that have shaped them into the passionate and bright young minds they are today.

    Learn more about Virginia’s Youth in Action and sign up to receive policy news from the General Assembly every Friday in our Voices from the Capitol emails.

  7. Introducing the Members of Virginia’s Youth in Action (VAYA)

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    Voices for Virginia’s Children is proud to announce the inaugural members of Virginia’s Youth in Action (VAYA). Before starting my role here at Voices, I was a mental health clinician at ChildSavers, a non-profit in Richmond that provides children’s mental health services and child care resources. After years of working one-on-one with my clients, it was clear that even the best therapies I offered could not overcome the impact of the prolonged poverty, systemic racism, and ongoing community violence so many children and youth were experiencing in Richmond. I made the difficult decision to leave full-time clinical work and join the Voices’ team with the hopes that I could advocate for a better, more comprehensive mental health system for children.

    Part of my role is to empower young people with lived experience to share their stories for change using a healing-centered model. With VAYA, our goal is to further participants’ empathetic, inclusive perspectives of others through evidence-based, healing-centered curriculums that show the connections between culture, community, and social economics. We hope to strengthen the public speaking, advocacy, and leadership skills of each participant so they are empowered to use their individual and collective voice to make progress in areas where change is slow and unjust. Most importantly, we aim to equip these young leaders to meet the moment as society’s most marginalized communities continue to be underrepresented in decision making.

    We received over 60 applications for this inaugural cohort and spent a tremendous amount of time narrowing down the group to 12 individuals. Learn about VAYA and this year’s participants here.

  8. Recap: Racial Truth & Reconciliation Week (August 2022)

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    This blog post was written by Voices intern Cat Atkinson.

    “If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.” – Lilla Watson, Indigenous Australian artist, scholar, and activist.

    This year marked Virginia’s 3rd Racial Truth & Reconciliation Week (RTRW); a virtual week-long conference hosted by Voices for Virginia’s Children. This year’s RTRW took place August 22-27, 2022. The mission of RTRW is to empower the voices and experiences of marginalized communities in acknowledgment of truth to promote healing, reconciliation, and justice for children and families. This week promotes the reckoning of our past to reconcile our present and future. In this blog post, we’re taking a look back at this year’s themes and workshops.

    RTRW seeks to advance policies that dismantle systems that perpetuate racial trauma, oppression, and inequity by educating Virginians, encouraging advocacy and activism, promoting equity, inclusion, and justice, and uplifting the voices, truths, and experiences of communities of color.

    As we continue to navigate divisive political landscapes and strive to promote trauma-informed healing, compassion, and justice, we intentionally selected RTRW themes to reflect the intersections of current events, history, culture, time, and policy that we find ourselves in. RTRW 2022 highlighted the themes of “Good Troublemaking: Necessary Trouble to Enact Change”, “Voices of Virginia’s Future: Highlighting Young Advocates”, and “Activists and Organizational Change: Reckoning and Reconciling Our Truth”, centering the voices and stories of youth and community members as the experts on their lived experiences in these topics.

    “Our kids were born for this time.” – Ann Zweckbronner, Parenting an Activist

    Over the course of the week, we had 19 workshops, 31 presenters, and 586 registrants from 29 states and Canada! RTRW went international! We had attendees from state agencies, non-profit organizations, community-based organizations, students, youth, parents, and more. 95% of those polled were satisfied with the programs and 98% of those polled thought the content was relevant to their work. We have been celebrating the community that RTRW has created by continuing to engage with repeat attendees over the years.

    Graphic featuring the words Racial Truth and Reconciliation Week 2022 followed by four purple circles each containing text. The first says 19 workshops. The second says 2,171 registrations. The third says 31 presenters. and the last one says 586 registrants. Followed by a grey bar containing the racial truth and reconciliation logo at the bottom.A graphic that says Racial Truth and Reconciliation Week 2022 at the top followed by the words 29 u.s. states participated and Canada and an icon of the globe. At the bottom there is a grey bar with the RTR logo in the center.
    The workshops this year highlighted the importance of community partnership and the collective liberation of the communities we uplift through advocacy. We engaged in conversation about DEIJ (diversity, equity, inclusion and justice) within organizations and communities, we discussed the importance of understanding intersectionality, how to support and encourage social justice advocacy within youth and cause “good trouble” within our social system to bring about radical change. There was collective storytelling, intentional self-reflection, engagement with new lenses of focus, and a buzz of energy from attendees and organizers to take this work back to their own spaces. In one week, we got to see the power of community engagement in mobilization for radical change.

    Let us continue to work together:

    Upcoming Coalition & Committee Meetings:

    Learn More About Advocacy:

    • Legislative Advocacy Guide: This comprehensive guide describes advocacy through the Virginia legislative process and gives specific instructions on how to communicate with elected officials.
    • Watch livestream or view recordings of House and Senate committee meetings.
    • Who’s My Legislator? Click here, then type in your address to find your Virginia representatives.

    Support Voices’ Work:

    • Voices is able to convene events like RTRW that ignite change in pursuit of healing, reconciliation, and justice thanks to your generous contributions. Please consider giving a gift to support the dedicated work of Voices staff in putting together RTRW and other events focused on improving the lives of Virginia’s children.
    • Make your one-time or recurring gift online by clicking here.

    Racial Truth and Reconciliation News:

  9. Announcement: New Youth Development Program by Voices

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    We are excited to announce a new youth development program at Voices for Virginia’s Children. This new program is in the early stages of planning, and we’re delighted to be working with Tiara Whitfield, CEO of AdoLESSONS LLC, a Richmond-based consulting firm, whose extensive experiences in youth development programming have been an asset on this journey. This youth development program will enhance young people’s ability to engage with legislators and decision-makers to advance their communities through advocacy, storytelling, and community engagement.

    How It Will Work

    This August, we are launching several compensated focus groups with youth and young adults, to help determine everything from the program name to learning objectives. We are also spending time connecting with existing youth programs and partner organizations that have been leaders in this work.

    Our inaugural group will be open to Virginia residents between the ages of 15 – 25. Members will be paid a stipend for their participation throughout the year. In August and September, we aim to begin recruiting ten pilot group participants for our first cohort, with workshops beginning in September 2022. Program participants will take part in training that will prepare them for state-level legislative advocacy for the 2023 Virginia General Assembly. After the legislative session, this year’s pilot program will continue building skills and strategizing year-long advocacy initiatives and projects.

    What Participants Will Gain

    Through participating in this program, members will accomplish the following:

    • Understand the legislative process and procedures in Virginia.
    • Develop skills in leadership, storytelling, social change, advocacy and activism.
    • Inform and advise policymakers on legislation pertaining to young people, families, and their communities.

    Youth development programs benefit their participants in many ways, enhancing or improving soft skills, social skills, and social emotional learning. Our goal is to provide evidence-based, healing-centered curriculums that show the connections between culture, community, and economics and that further participants’ empathetic, inclusive perspectives of others. We hope to hone participants’ public speaking, advocacy, and leadership skills and empower participants to use their voices, passions, and skills to make progress in areas where change is slow or unjust and at moments when society’s most marginalized communities are underrepresented.

    How We Got Here

    In 2019, Voices for Virginia’s Children hosted our first Foster Care Advocacy Cohort, a landmark pivot towards truly incorporating young voices and lived experiences in our policy work and advocacy. In our mission to champion public policies that improve the lives of Virginia’s children, we have created opportunities piece by piece for young people to have seats at the table. For several years we continued to develop advocacy cohorts to center young voices and stories, culminating in this year’s inaugural Youth Advocacy Cohort, our youngest group of advocates to date, ranging from 14 – 25 years old. As we continue to convene young people and generate opportunities for them to participate in the change that would liberate us all, it is essential to empower and activate these young advocates and leaders. We began imagining a program that could mentor, nurture, educate, and train young changemakers. We dreamed of a space where youth could learn about power, equity, justice, storytelling, and the legislative process so that they would have the skills to not only take their seats at the table but also to lead the whole meeting.

    Young people are critical partners in the work of imagining and building a more just and equitable Virginia. With this developing program, we are grateful to be positioning ourselves to be the voices of Virginia’s children and young people and enhancing our ability to develop youth advocates. We are thankful to our partners and youth consultants in developing this program and are looking forward to what is to come.

  10. RTRW 2022: Themes and Presentations

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    We are looking forward to our third year recognizing Racial Truth & Reconciliation Week, August 22 – 28, 2022. Each year, we intentionally select RTRW themes to reflect the intersections of current events, history, culture, time, and policy that we find ourselves in. This year is no different as we continue to navigate divisive political landscapes and strive to promote trauma-informed healing, compassion, and justice at the center of our own work. This year, we have also experienced the power and importance of letting young voices influence and inform decisions that will impact them, their families, and their well-being the most.

    This year’s themes are:

    • Good Trouble: Necessary Trouble to Enact Change
    • Voices of Virginia’s Future: Highlighting Young Advocates & Activists
    • Organizational Change: Reckoning & Reconciling Our Truth

    This year, we are approaching RTRW with a renewed drive to incorporate community voices and stories. As such, we are announcing a call for proposals for each day of these themes.

    Presentations must be:

    • A minimum of 45 minutes and a max of 90 minutes in length
    • Presented virtually, August 23 – 25, 2022
    • In line with the Racial Truth & Reconciliation Mission & Goals

    If you or your organization are interested in presenting at this year’s Racial Truth & Reconciliation Week, read on to see which theme may be the best fit for you and your content.

    Good Trouble – Necessary Trouble to Enact Change
    Presenting on Tuesday, August 23, 2022

    “Do not become bitter or hostile. Be hopeful, be optimistic. Never, ever be afraid to make some noise and get in good trouble, necessary trouble. We will find a way to make a way out of no way.” – Congressman John Lewis

    Proposals for this theme may include (but are not limited to):

    • Workshops incorporating advocacy, activism, changemaking, etc.
    • Discussions of the varying roles in social change
    • Persevering through challenging political landscapes
    • Self- and community-care in the face of political and systemic adversities
    • Community roundtables/panels on how local leaders and community members are getting into “Good Trouble”
    • Storytelling and/or artistry celebrating the spirit of “Good Trouble”

    Voices of Virginia’s Future: Highlighting Young Advocates & Activists
    Presenting on Wednesday, August 24, 2022

    “There’s a moment where you have to choose whether to be silent or stand up.” – Malala Yousafzai

    Proposals for this theme may include (but are not limited to):

    • Community roundtables/panels comprised of young people
    • Workshops about outreach and engagement with young people
    • Discussions on how to effectively support and listen to young people
    • Presentations on the landscape of youth and young people in advocacy and activism
    • Workshops incorporating youth development, mentorship, etc.
    • Storytelling and/or artistry celebrating young peoples’ advocacy and activism

    Organizational Change: Reckoning & Reconciling Our Truth
    Presenting on Thursday, August 25, 2022

    “Unless an organization sees that its task is to lead change, that organization will not survive.” – Peter Drucker

    Proposals for this theme may include (but are not limited to):

    • Workshops incorporating organizational change theory
    • Community discussions on themes of diversity, equity, inclusion, belonging, and justice
    • Presentations on organizational change, accountability, growth, etc.
    • Facilitated discussions on leading, managing, and embracing organizational change
    • Storytelling, truth telling, and/or artistry centering around organizational change and growth

    Proposals may be submitted here by Friday, July 15, 2022.
    For further questions or support needs, contact Kristin Lennox, kristin@vakids.org.