Tag Archive: trauma

  1. Healing Centered Engagement in a Trauma-Informed World


    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. 

  2. Asian American Trauma Impacting Virginia’s Children


    There has been a 46% increase in acts of violence and discrimination of Asian Americans in the past year.

    According to data released by Stop AAPI Hate:

    • 3,800 reports of violence that ranged from stabbings, beatings, to deaths, were completed over the past year (March 19,2020-February 28th, 2021) of the pandemic for Asian Americans, which is significantly higher than the previous year’s number (2,600).
    • Of these assaults, youth up to age 17 made up over 12% of the incidents. 
    • Virginia made the list of the states with the greatest rate (11 rank at 1.29 and 49 cases).

    These numbers are powerful data points that partially quantify the scope of discrimination Asian Americans experience. These numbers only represent a small portion of the crimes that have actually occurred. There are several data challenges that point to rates much higher than we know. The Justice Department and FBI are required by a 1990 Hate Crime Statistics Act to publish an annual report on hate crime statistics. This source is the most comprehensive look at hate crimes across the country; however, incomplete due to the inconsistency of required reporting of law enforcement agencies. Out of the 18,000 agencies across the US, nearly 3,000 of them did not report data in 2019. In addition to the lack of reporting, under reporting of individuals who have experienced a hate crime is also common. Those individuals may be scared of retaliation or think that it wasn’t reportable due to the type or scope of the incident.

    In addition to underreporting by both the victim and law enforcement agencies, another challenge is the way in which race groups for those of Asian race are lumped together. In a study conducted by Washington Center for Equitable Growth in 2016, there are a many as 50 different races and ethnicities that can be classified under the broad term Asian American or Pacific Islander. By lumping race groups together and not capturing all the unique races and ethnicities that the term Asian race contains, it limits a complete picture of the patterns and trends occurring, which prohibit evidence-based solutions to be implemented equitably amongst all in the Asian community.

    What we do know is trauma, like the violence experienced by Asian Americans, impacts children. According to Census data obtained by the Virginia Kids Count Data Center:

    It is unclear what projections of percentages of child poverty will be in the coming future. Federal legislation like the Family First Act and the EITC amendment, will aid families with some economic relief, but other unknown factors such as the unemployment rate and when public health restrictions are lifted prohibit a clear picture. 

    Our goal is to ensure no child or person experiences a hate crime or any type of violence. Children experiencing trauma, which can be a single event or multiple events, can having lasting impacts on the individuals physical, social, emotion, or spiritual well-being. Racism is a driving factor that impacts the social determinant of our personal and public health, family economic security, housing, food security, and education. Immediately, we are seeing impact in decisions parents are making regarding children’s immediate learning environment in places like Fairfax County Public Schools in Northern Virginia, which is the largest district in Virginia.  According to  a recent presentation of the Fairfax school board regarding back to school instruction, in the spring of 2021 just over 30 percent of Asian families selected face-to-face instruction. This was the smallest return rate among any racial group in the district. While we may not have data like this is available for every school district across the state, it certainly verifies trends we are seeing in which violence and racism is visibly impacting children. A recent study of Asian American Youth found that one in 4 had been victims of racist bullying during the pandemic.

    One immediate step to address the reported rise in violence that legislators have taken includes the creation of an Asian American and Pacific Islander Caucus.  Only meeting for the first time last week on National Day of Action and Healing to Stop Asian Hate, proclaimed by Governor Northam, this group has the potential to address root causes of this trauma at the policy level. 

    At Voices for Virginia’s Children, we are home to the Racial Truth campaign that serves to empower the voice of marginalized communities working on policy topics that address the severe effects of systemic oppression and intuitional inequality.  This is why we supported the resolution to declare racism as a public health crisis, and will continue to use both an equity and trauma lenses in all policy, advocacy, and data work we prioritize.

  3. 2021 General Assembly Session: Mental Health Priorities

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    Children’s mental health is facing a critical system change moment right now. There has never been a moment when mental health needs were more prevalent or more normalized. There are few moments when all children and parents experience a collective trauma. There is more awareness and understanding of how racial and historical trauma is connected to mental health and wellness. We must take this opportunity to build a new approach to mental health services and supports for children. The first steps for this new approach start with the investments that the governor, state agencies and legislature will make in the early days of 2021.

    Pre-pandemic, one in four children in Virginia experienced a mental health issue ranging from ADD to depression/anxiety.  A look at the report from Mental Health America on their online screening tool found a 93 percent increase over the previous year of individuals seeking help through the online screening during the pandemicThere was a 9 percent increase among youth 11-17 taking the screening by September 2020 compared to 2019.

    We know from previous research that community disasters or traumas can produce high levels of mental health issues in children with as many as half of children in a community experiencing mental health issues after a disaster. In 2018-19 data from the National Survey of Children’s Health, nearly 61 percent of Black or Latino children in VA experienced trauma. In the future, our systems must respond to this disproportionate impact and the context of racial & historical trauma.

    Because we know that mental health concerns will increase for children in their prevalence and severity we must plan now to build systems to support mental health and meet kids where they are—in child care settings, virtual classrooms, online peer groups and more acute treatment methods.   

    To cast a wide net for mental health services and to help children and families recover from the trauma of the pandemic and years of economic hardship and unjust systems, policymakers must ask this question in every legislative meeting and in every discussion with agencies and advocates: “Where are we addressing mental health needs in this system?”  

    Some ideas about how policymakers can begin:

    • Support parents: One in five parents reports feeling stressed or depressed during the pandemic. Parents’ mental health and wellness directly impacts their children. Parents who are stressed financially or by grief, loss and anxiety cannot provide the optimal supportive environment for kids to grow and thrive. We need policies that support parents such as home visiting and paid leave expansion.
    • Start early: Begin in early education and elementary schools by training educators to support social-emotional wellness and to identify and address mental health issues appropriatelyA team of advocates and state agency leaders put together a report about how to build mental health supports in early education systems. State agencies must work towards implementing those plans and the legislature must support additional mental health services.
    • Medicaid is an opportunity: More than 700,000 or one in three children in Virginia is insured by Medicaid/FAMIS. These children are the most economically at-risk in the state and also experience a lack of access to resources in their communities. Knowing that we can reach a large group of our most vulnerable children through Medicaid, what tools for screening, care coordination, and innovative or incentive funds can be leveraged even before kids fully return to classrooms and child care is vital.
    • Build the continuum: Because this year has disrupted the way we deliver services and efforts, such as the Family First Prevention Services Act and Behavioral Health Enhancement reforming how services are delivered, another look at the continuum is warranted. We know right now that services and a trained workforce will need to be built at every level and in every geography for a fully articulated continuum.
    • Apply an equity lensThis is the most important step and what we must have in place to build our systems of support back. Workforce and training initiatives need to be better prepared to meet the needs of children of color and respond to racial and historical trauma. We need training in implicit bias and the intersection of racial and cultural trauma for all of our child-serving professionals and to recruit a diverse set of professionals more reflective of the kids they serve.

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  4. 2021 General Assembly Session: Early Care and Education Priorities

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    There is no question that 2020 has dramatically changed the early learning sector in Virginia. As of late November, one-third of the licensed child care capacity in the state were still closedMost of our public preschool programs are offering virtual instruction for students. The impact of this year will have long-term implications for children as well as the child care sector.  

    We must recognize that our child care sector has only achieved stability at this level through additional federal resources. Nearly $170 million in response funds have been directed to child care and public preschool by the legislature and the Northam administration. This level of investment has been essential to keeping many providers open and allowing educators to offer care and instruction for the last nine months.

    We know that, due to the economic impact of COVID-19 on the state, additional state funds may be hard to come by this year. Our talking points for the 2021 legislative session will focus on two themes: 

    1. Improving compensation for early educators who have worked on the front lines.
    2. Building social-emotional supports into every aspect of our early learning systems.

    Improving Compensation for Early Educator Frontline Heroes

    recent UVA study of the racial composition and compensation of the early childhood workforce found that two out of five early educators in child care centers reported household incomes under $25,000. 35 percent of early educators reported decreased earnings back in May due to COVID-19 closuresBefore the pandemic, the median wage in child care was $10-14 an hour across the country. Educators in the private child care sector tend to usually be women of color—lead teachers in private programs were three times more likely to be Black than teachers in public preschool programs.

    In order for young children to continue to have loving and prepared caregivers and for parents to find child care, we must ensure there is a workforce to support children and support the sector. For the many child care programs that have remained open, early educators have put themselves at-risk of exposure to love and nurture our babies. These heroes deserve to be compensated in line with their importance in our society and in children’s lives.

    Incentive Payments: The Northam Administration has offered $1,500 incentive payments to some educators in PDG B-5 pilot communities. In FY20, about $3 mil distributed to 2,000 teachers as $1,500 recognition payments and another $3 mil is set to be distributed this year. UVA study comparing those who received an incentive and those who did not showed that the recognition payment reduced teacher turnover in child care centersWe will support additional incentive payments for educators and efforts that seek to increase minimum wages in child care settings by offering additional financial support.

    Building in Social-Emotional Supports into Every Aspect

    We don’t yet know the full impact that the pandemic will have on young children, but we do know that the stressors of the pandemic can produce a long-term impact on quickly growing and developing young brains. For children of color, the economic and emotional impact of the pandemic is layered on top of racial and historical trauma for their families and their communities.  

    Recent Census Household Pulse data shows that more than one in five parents in Virginia reported feeling hopeless or depressed. We know that when parents struggle with their mental health their children are also likely to struggle. We have heard directly from early educators who feel the toll of being on the front lines and who worry about their own health and serving children who are facing months of trauma and disruption. We must do better to support children and their caregivers in response to the pandemic.

    VDOE and state partners conducted a study on implementing mental health consultation models in child care this fall and found a few opportunities to start building up our systems. We believe that agency administrators and program leaders from Education, Social Services, Mental Health and Health agencies should review their professional development and program support plans to support services for social-emotional health into every program plan. This would include efforts such as additional social-emotional screening tools for children, implicit bias and equity training for educators, service linkages and workforce development efforts. To ensure a statewide system of support for children and caregivers there must be a multi-pronged and multi-faceted response with support from the legislature and administration creating a foundation of solid social-emotional wellness.

    Long Term Big, Bold Vision for ECE

    As we look to the long-term of the future of early education, we know we have to address a long standing problem— parents can’t afford to pay any more for child care and early educators can’t afford to earn any less. As we seek long-term solutions to rebuild this sector, we will keep these dual goals in mind to identify and support public investments and tools that can provide better pay for teachers and supports for the overall system to keep costs down for parents. We cannot go back to a system that requires parents to pay more than college tuition for their child care. And we cannot go back to a system that is based on paying low wages to teachers and caregivers. The recognition that child care is essential for our workforce should change the positioning and prominence of child care on any state and federal policy agenda in the future. It is critical to have your advocacy to continue to support it.

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  5. Guest Blog: Every Child Deserves a Thriving Family


    For the Month of May, Foster Care Month, Voices will feature guest blogs from organizations that are a part of our Foster Care Unified Policy Network.

    Guest Author: Cassie Cunningham, Children’s Home Society

    During Foster Care month, and every other month of the year, Children’s Home Society of Virginia focuses on the importance of permanency for children and youth with foster care experience. As an organization, we recognize the trauma that children face prior to and while in foster care and focus on healing that trauma. Trauma, if untreated, can lead to lifelong health consequences. The good news is trauma can be treated and children can heal from trauma through resiliency. In particular, our agency finds healing for children by building permanent families and lifelong relationships.

    For some children in foster care, they are able to be reunited with their families and build those relationships back up after their experience in foster care. For the children and youth we work with, they are unable to be reunited with their families. This leaves two options: the child stays in temporary foster care placements, or finds permanency through adoption. The nature of temporary placements can do two things: create additional trauma and prevent healing from previous and ongoing trauma. We work to find the right permanent family so the child can begin to form healthy lifelong relationships which is one of the first steps in allowing them to heal from trauma.

    Our teams work to recruit families and parents who understand trauma and are ready, willing, and able to provide a healing space for their new child. This could be a family simply interested in adopting, it could be a past teacher, a family friend, or a variety of other relationships. It could be a married couple, a married couple with other children, or a single parent. We find the right family for the child – not the other way around, focusing on the needs and desires of the child. Once we find the right family for the child, our work continues to ensure permanency for that child.

    We help the families adjust their parenting style to allow the child to heal. In fact, we begin this work from the start, requiring an extensive training in trauma and attachment for individuals interested in adopting through our agency. We continue this work after a child has been placed with their new family to help the parent(s) implement what they learned in their initial training. By requiring this training and providing support to implement that training, we work to ensure that children remain with their adoptive family permanently. Ensuring this permanency is what will slowly allow the child to heal from trauma and reduce potential lifelong health implications from that trauma.

    Unfortunately, in Virginia we have a large number of youth who age out of foster care, meaning they never find a permanent family. In addition to our adoption work, we also work with youth who have aged out of foster care to help them establish lifelong relationships that will allow them to heal from trauma. We work with youth to find stability through housing, employment, education and most importantly, permanent relationships in whatever form that may take – a mentor, a reconnected family member, or a number of other relationships. We firmly believe all children and youth deserve permanency and are dedicated to helping them find that.

    During foster care month, we encourage you to explore how you can help children in foster care heal from trauma. We know that not everyone can adopt but everyone can help in some way – whether it is advocating for issues at the General Assembly, volunteering with an adoption agency, or continuing to bring awareness to these issues. Every child deserves a thriving family and we hope you will join us in the work to make that a reality.


    Cassie Cunningham is the Policy and Research Analyst at Children’s Home Society.

    Children’s Home Society of Virginia is a full-service, private, nonprofit 501(c)(3), non-sectarian licensed child-placing agency, and one of Virginia’s oldest adoption agencies.