Tag Archive: trauma-informed policy

  1. 9-8-8 is Just One Step Towards a Comprehensive Crisis Services System

    This blog is the second post in a two-part series that takes a deeper look into Virginia’s efforts to integrate the 9-8-8 hotline with the behavioral health crisis services continuum. Read the first blog post in the series here.

    For years, communities have advocated for diverting mental and behavioral health calls away from law enforcement and for states to adopt a comprehensive crisis response system. Now, that dream is beginning to come to fruition. On July 16, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline transitioned to the three-digit number 9-8-8. While this transition was initiated by legislation at the federal level, states are responsible for the rollout and linkages to their crisis response systems when the caller’s needs cannot be resolved over the phone. Virginia has been working on a rollout behind the scenes to link the lifeline to crisis response services that are currently being designed and implemented by state agencies and stakeholders.

    The commonwealth’s plan for minimizing emergency room visits for mental health crises and providing an alternative to calling 9-1-1 is to link the crisis call centers with regionally focused resources by integrating mobile crisis response alongside the Marcus Alert protocols. However, at this moment, this is simply the goal and not the reality. The development and implementation of Virginia’s behavioral health crisis system has been a piecemeal approach, and is not yet fully prepared to deliver comprehensive, trauma-informed, and culturally responsive services to meet individuals’ mental health needs—specifically the needs of young people

    The Surgeon General sounded the alarm in December 2021 by issuing an advisory on the youth mental health crisis. Despite widespread awareness, young people’s mental and behavioral health needs are often an afterthought or part of “phase two” when developing programs and services. Current resources dedicated to young people’s behavioral health make up less than 10% of Virginia’s overall behavioral health agency budget. The lack of sufficient funding and resources further the disparities that historically marginalized communities face in accessing support and services.

    Due to the inconsistent mental health crisis services across regions, law enforcement is often the first point of “care” for mental health emergencies, especially for Black, Latinx, Indigenous, and LGBTQIA+ youth. While most calls to 9-8-8 can be resolved during the call, some crises will require an in-person response based on a four-level call matrix.

    four level call matrix

    This new entry point for mental health support is supposed to be an alternative to law enforcement response, but a new law allows 89 of Virginia’s 133 localities with 40,000 or less residents to opt out of two protocols under the Marcus Alert System. This means that for those living in one of the 89 localities that are not required to implement all Marcus Alert protocols, an attempt to get in-person crisis support may still result in law enforcement, with or without Crisis Intervention Training, responding to your call. The criminalization of youth crises often results in further traumatization. This experience can intensify their crisis, compromise their treatment, and make them and their families less willing to call for help if another crisis occurs. Far too often children and families are met with a response that is not suited to meet their immediate or long-term needs.

    At a time when young people need support the most—while their worlds have been turned upside down by COVID-19—we must ensure there are providers and services in place to provide access to timely, culturally responsive services, and address social determinants of health to support children and families’ overall wellbeing. This requires investments from lawmakers and interagency collaboration.

    For 9-8-8 to be truly transformative, investments are needed now.

    While all these recommendations are not immediate and some are considerations for future policy, Voices for Virginia’s Children suggests the following key recommendations:

    • Mobile Crisis services need to be fully funded across all regions, with an emphasis on providing services in underserved and rural communities. Voices also suggests separate mobile crisis protocols designed specifically for youth, as the intervention points at which young people receive support may include schools, parental consent, developmental appropriateness, or specifically trained professionals;
    • Mobile Crisis and Community Care teams should include a peer specialist, interpreter, community advocate, and child-serving mental health professional;
    • More small-scale children’s Crisis Stabilization Units should be placed in communities across the state;
    • Establish an infrastructure for language access and a culturally diverse and appropriate workforce;
    • Mandatory trainings should include equity-centered concepts, including implicit bias training, trauma-informed care, child and adolescent development, and training specific to special populations (i.e., LGBTQIA+ youth and youth with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities);
    • Stakeholders involved in implementation should include those most impacted, such as youth with lived experience and communities of color;
    • Ensure that crisis response protocols and services are equipped to support systems-involved youth and their family members. Protocols should be designed to avoid future involvement in the child welfare system or juvenile justice system.

    Voices will continue to advocate for increased access and improved coordination of quality mental health services for all children in Virginia, regardless of where they live or at what point they seek mental health services. The future wellbeing of our state depends on how we support and invest in the next generation.

    To learn more about Virginia’s plan for crisis system transformation, visit these resources: Virginia’s Crisis System Transformation and Marcus Alert and STEP-VA.

  2. Improvements to school lock-down drills in Virginia (Updated 2.20.20)


    School lock-down drills, also known as “Active Shooter Drills” have become nearly ubiquitous in public schools across the nation. While the intent of  lock-down drills is to prepare teachers and students to protect themselves if faced with an unimaginable dangerous situation, recent reports and statements from the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association cite the traumatic effect these drills are having on some children and a lack of evidence to support the effectiveness of these drills.

    Currently in Virginia, all public schools are required to perform at least four lock-down drills per school calendar year. Two bills focusing on improvements to school lock-down drill practices have made progress during the 2020 General Assembly session.


    2020 legislation to improve school lock-down drills 

    Delegate and high school teacher,  Schuyler VanValkenburg of Henrico, patroned  HB270, which addresses parental notice of upcoming lock-down drills. Specifically, this bill requires every public school to give parents at least 24hours’ notice before conducting any lock-down drills. Defeated in committee during the 2019, this bill is incredibly important because it give families an opportunity to have conversations with their children about the purpose of these drills and respond to questions or fears kids may have about these active shooter drills.


    These lock-down drills impact not just high school students, but kindergarteners as well (and some children in public pre-k, too!) and it’s important to remember that 5 year olds and 17 year olds are at very different developmental stages. All children and youth require the support of their families or trusted adults to help them regulate their emotions. Giving families notice about a potentially scary event, allows families the opportunity to provide the emotional support all children need.


    Equally as important, Delegate Mark Keam-Fairfax Co, sponsored HB402, a bill that exempts Pre-k and Kindergarten students from mandatory participation in lock-down drills during the first 60-days of school.  In implementing this exemption,  Principals  at each relevant school  are given the option to 1) conduct teacher-only drills or other suitable training for pre-k and kindergarten teachers or 2) notify each parent of pre-k and kindergarten student at least five school days in advance of each planned lock-down drill and permit parents to opt their child out of participating in these drills during the first 60 days of school. Pre-k and kindergarten students will still be required to participate in each lock-down drills after the first 60 days of the school session.

    Update: Both bills successfully passed out of Senate committees this morning and are headed to the Senate floor. We were successfully able to get pre-k students added to Delegate Keam’s bill: HB 402. Thank you Senator Keam for making this important change. 

    The New School Safety Report, co-written by the NEA & AFT, and discussed during the Feb 13th Senate Education and Health Subcommittee on Public Education, a few recommendations include:

    1. Parents should be given advanced notice before a lock-down drill occurs.
    2. Drills must be age appropriate and should be coupled with trauma-informed instruction and mental health/counseling supports before and after such drills.

    These bills are both steps in the right direction. Let’s ensure that we are not doing more harm than good and protecting the emotional health and well-being of all our children.

  3. Recap- Virginia Summit on Childhood Trauma & Resilience 4/25/19

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    On Thursday April 25, 2019 Voices hosted over 950 attendees at the Virginia Summit on Childhood Trauma and Resilience. The goal of the Summit was to connect child-serving professionals and advocates across the Commonwealth to best practices to prevent, and better address, the impacts of childhood adversity. California’s first Surgeon General and well-known ACEs expert, Dr. Nadine Burke Harris, provided the keynote address. Both Governor Northam and First Lady Pamela Northam addressed the audience and spoke to the Northam Administration’s efforts to promote trauma-informed practice through the Governor’s Children’s Cabinet. A panel of bipartisan legislators provided examples of efforts they have supported, from education reforms to foster care policy, to make Virginia more trauma-informed.

    WATCH THE KEYNOTE by Dr. Nadine Burke Harris. We are grateful to the Virginia Health Care Foundation for the recording.

    VIEW THE POLICY PANEL with introduction by First Lady Pamela Northam and featuring Secretary of Health and Human Resources Daniel Carey and Senator Jennifer McClellan (D- Richmond), Senator Siobhan Dunnavant (R-Henrico), Delegate Chris Peace (R- New Kent), and Delegate Jeff Bourne (D- Richmond). Moderated by Emily Griffey, Policy Director.

    In honor of Voices’ 25th Anniversary as the only multi-issue child advocacy organization in Virginia, Voices wanted to highlight policy change that would improve the well-being of Virginia’s children. The policies supported under the umbrella of the Campaign for a Trauma-Informed Virginia and the Unified Policy Agenda were the perfect focus to engage advocates on a topic that many practitioners and policymakers were energized to learn more about. Voices connected with our partners at Families Forward Virginia, the child abuse prevention and home visiting organization in Virginia, as well as the Family and Children’s Trust Fund, and Greater Richmond SCAN, two organizations providing expertise and technical assistance to trauma-informed community networks across the state.

    Through these partnerships, Voices was able to recruit teams of eight to represent 15 of the community networks in Virginia. These representatives on each team represented the cross-sector networks and diversity of perspectives engaging to promote awareness of ACEs and implement trauma-informed practice. Learn more about these networks: Virginia’s Trauma Informed Community Networks, a publication by FACT.

    The afternoon featured nine breakout sessions highlighting trauma-informed care practices featuring presenters exclusively from Virginia. These breakout sessions touched on trauma-informed practices in education, the implementation of the Family First Prevention Services Act, trauma-informed leadership in health care systems and law enforcement, and the intersection of racial equity and trauma. Read more about each breakout session and the bios for the presenters.

    The Summit closed with a focus on proactive and positive ways to release stress and engage youth with Healing the Community with Rhythm by the Drums No Guns Foundation. Watch a little of the action here and here.

    One participant remarked, “I have not been in a crowd with this much positive energy, this engaged on a topic, in a long time!”

    Another commented, “I think we will look back on this day as a seminal moment in Virginia’s history as when professionals began shifting practice to become more trauma-informed and engaged in advocacy.”

    To learn more about the Campaign for a Trauma-Informed Virginia contact Emily Griffey at emily@vakids.org.

  4. Campaign for a Trauma-Informed VA: School Resource Officers (Updated 1/31)

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    Currently, Virginia School Resource Officers (SROs) are not required to receive training in working with children and youth. We expect nearly anyone working daily with children to receive training on child development and appropriate interactions with children, why would Virginia not require the same of SROs?

    After the Parkland shooting, Virginia lawmakers turned attention to what students felt they needed to be safe in school. Students who spoke up on panels and attended meetings mentioned improving their interactions with SROs as something they needed to feel safe in school. SROs needed to begin their interactions from the perspective of “what’s happened to you?”, not “what’s wrong with you?”. SRO’s needed to be trauma-informed. 

    The leaders and participants of Trauma-informed Community Networks across the state agreed with students based on what they saw in their communities and raised the issue of requiring more appropriate training for School Resource Officers. The more than 40 organizations signing on to the Unified Policy Agenda for the Campaign for a Trauma-Informed Virginia all agreed that this initiative was a priority.

    Now your support is needed to encourage our Delegates and Senators to vote in support of required training for School Resource Officers.


    Bill Update as of 1/31/19

    Support SB1130 (Locke). This is the only bill related to SROs that requires training for the safety officers in child-specific topics. As of 1.31.19 it had passed the Education and Health Committee and was referred to the Senate Fiance Committee.

    While Delegate Bourne’s died in a House Courts of Justice subcommittee, a similar bill, HB2609 (Jay Jones) requiring training for School Resource Officers, although not specifying what topics the training would cover, passed the House Education committee and is under consideration of the full House of Delegates.



  5. Dillon Wild Learns Public Policy Best Practices During Voices’ Internship

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    Written by Cassie Price

    With a bang of his gavel, Chairman Emmett Hanger abruptly ended the May 29 Virginia Senate Finance Committee meeting, after declaring Senate Majority Leader Thomas Norment out of order. Hanger realized just in time that Norment’s attempted parliamentary maneuver would prevent a vote on Medicaid expansion from reaching the full Senate, effectively shutting down the possibility of Medicaid expansion in Virginia in 2018.

    The next day, the Virginia Senate and House of Delegates voted to expand Medicaid to an additional 400,000 low-income Virginians.

    Dillon Wild witnessed first-hand the dramatic turn of events at the May 29 committee meeting. He attended the meeting on the second day of his internship with Voices for Virginia’s Children, which advocated for Medicaid expansion as a way to improve family health outcomes and economic stability.

    “It was a really exciting introduction to my internship,” said the graduate student at University of Virginia’s Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy. “I saw how something seemingly small could change the course of politics.”

    “It was a really exciting introduction to my internship. I saw how something seemingly small could change the course of politics.”

    Dillon learned about the Voices internship when a Batten School counselor sent around a list of internship postings. “I recognized Voices because I had used Voices’ KIDS COUNT data for a paper I wrote on children’s mental health,” he said.

    He traced his initial interest in children’s issues to discussions with his mother, an early childhood educator. She often spoke of the lack of resources available to meet the needs of low-income children, he said.

    This spring, Dillon explored children’s issues in more depth through a social policy course taught by a UVA professor who had lobbied Congress on behalf of children.

    Dillon’s summer internship focused on two projects: researching the Family First Prevention Services Act (FFPSA) and Voices’ campaign to promote trauma-informed policies and practices.

    The FFPSA reforms federal funding of the foster care system in order to prevent children from entering foster care and to improve the well-being of children already in foster care.

    “I read the legislation several times and thought about what Voices needs to do to be ready for the implementation of Family First,” Dillon said. “I met stakeholders and legislators working on this and assisted Voices’ foster care policy analyst Allison Gilbreath in creating an informational Family First webinar and the accompanying slides.

    “My trauma research involved looking at how other states expanded trauma-informed policy and practice across institutions, agencies, and organizations.”

    Now back at UVA, Dillon has been talking to his classmates about their internships.

    “I realized I was lucky to work with Voices,” he said. “Voices does a really good job of exemplifying best practices for forming public policy, as we are learning about it in my program.

    “Voices does a really good job of exemplifying best practices for forming public policy.”

    “For example, Voices’ policy director Emily Griffey made a list of stakeholders and community partners who should be involved in the trauma-informed agenda. At the first meeting with our trauma-informed partners, she asked, who is missing? Who else should we invite? This taught me the importance of including all stakeholders when crafting public policy.”

    He recalled a UVA classmate speaking about her internship with a nonprofit that had no data to back up its policy agenda. “By contrast, the KIDS COUNT data supports Voices’ public policy,” he said.

    Dillon will continue his internship with Voices on a part-time basis this semester and will work with Voices on his master’s capstone project next semester.

    “I feel very lucky to have had this experience with Voices,” Dillon said. “I learned a lot more than I thought I would. Going forward, I want to stay involved with children’s policy.”



  6. Troubling Times Call for Advocates to Step Up: Focus on Childhood Trauma

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    For us as children’s advocates it’s been a rough year. We’ve encountered challenges to children’s policy at the federal level, such as threats to children’s health insurance coverage. Our heads have been spinning as plans for immigrant families change with the swift action of an Executive Order, or in the courts, with a bang of a gavel. Our hearts have been broken watching violence play out in our communities—neighborhood violence in Richmond, racially motivated violence in Charlottesville, and mass shootings. We can’t turn on the news without hearing more threats of hurricanes and wildfires. For us as children’s advocates, these events change how we do our jobs. But for the children we serve, and advocate for, these events can shape their experience and, potentially, their future health and development.

    Voices has focused on how childhood trauma can shape a child’s long-term health and development and their experiences in the mental health system, foster care system, or juvenile justice system. Last year we helped to introduce the topic of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and how communities are responding through Trauma-informed Community Networks (TICNs) to state policymakers. Momentum and interest have been building as the Commission on Youth hosted a Family Impact Seminar in May on Adverse Childhood Experiences for policy makers. Voices has developed talking points and questions for candidates on childhood trauma. We’ve also researched how other states approach trauma-informed policy for children.

    While it’s heartbreaking to work with children who have experienced trauma, we know there are great examples of how we can advance better policy and practice. Over the next year, Voices will incorporate more trauma-informed policy into our work and will launch an advocacy campaign and strategy around trauma-informed state policy. If you are interested in learning more and being involved in this work there are a couple of ways to start….

    1. Learn more about trauma and building resilience through the excellent documentary Resilience or from the *just-launched* Sesame Workshop resources for working with young children who have experienced trauma.
    2. Show your support for recommendations to bring a state-level policy focus and local innovation to trauma-informed practice to Virginia. The legislative Commission on Youth will vote to consider several recommendations related to childhood trauma at their Nov. 8th meeting. You can show that you, or your organization, supports these recommendations by sending a letter to COY members. A sample letter and instructions are available here.
    3. Let us know if you are interested in staying up to speed on advocacy opportunities and legislative proposals on trauma-informed practice. Share your contact information, as well as any thoughts and questions with our Policy Director, Emily Griffey.

    Once you get started you will probably want to know more about the policies and practices that can build resilient families and can help mitigate the impact of trauma. We are excited that many areas of children’s services, from Head Start directors to Juvenile Detention Center staff, are being trained in trauma-informed approached this year. Some other examples of policy and practice change and innovation that interests us includes:

    These examples, as well as the many exciting things happening at the community level, give us hope when we encounter troubling times. We hope you will join us in advocating for children who have experienced trauma.