Children’s Resilience Initiative
In October 2014, we published a story about how the Children’s Resilience Initiative (CRI) took on the challenge of turning Walla Walla, Washington, into a trauma-informed, resilience-building community. CRI launched in 2009, with $40,000 from a local foundation, the Donald & Virginia Sherwood Trust, and a three-year $130,000 grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. This was enough to support fulltime coordinator Teri Barila, a part-time coordinator, to bring in expert speakers, to organize meetings, to do a citywide survey about ACEs awareness, and to launch ResilienceTrumpsACEs.org.
Although communities that are becoming trauma-informed often feel as if they’re building the airplane while flying, the Children’s Resilience Initiative has settled on three major goals this year:
- Continue to inform people, organizations, and systems about ACEs research. (This includes the epidemiology of ACEs, the neurobiology of toxic stress, the long-term biomedical and epigenetic consequences of toxic stress, and resilience research.)
- Help organizations implement trauma-informed and resilience-building practices.
- Evaluate the impact of those practices.
This year, to achieve those goals, CRI has:
- Signed a contract with Head Start Trauma Smart to integrate ACEs/ trauma-informed/ resilience-building practices into the three Head Start sites in the region over the 2015-2016 school year.
- Began implementing a comprehensive train-the-trainer program for 62 people from 10 area agencies and organizations so that they can implement trauma-informed, resilience-building practices themselves.
- Began evaluating the impact of the work they’ve done so far, in two different ways.
When Avis Smith, director of Trauma Smart, did a four-hour workshop last October with regional Head Start staff and child care providers, it was a turning point for Barila.
“She really started to nail the impact of our own regulation,” says Barila. “I’d been trained in the ARC model (Attachment, Self-Regulation and Competency), but the significance of self-regulation for adults didn’t hit me. Then I got hooked on what it means to know who we are and the impact of our family of origin that creates the mental models that we are asking people to let go of so that they can integrate ACEs, trauma-informed and resilience-building practices. I knew that it was the next thing we needed.”
For example, say you’re a teacher and you’ve been raised in a family where it’s offensive, rude, disrespectful and intolerable for a child to “talk back” to an adult, and you and your siblings are punished (verbally or physically) for any minor or major infraction. So, a punitive hair-trigger response to a student who talks back to you would be expected, because it’s what’s been ingrained in you since you were a toddler. So, it takes an understanding of where that reaction came from to begin to change, so that you can focus on what’s bothering the child rather than immediately saying the child is “bad”.
“I saw the specific strategies that Head Start Trauma Smart was using, and I said: ‘I get it. How do we implement this?’
The three Head Start programs in and around Walla Walla are one of first two sites outside the Kansas City, MO, area to receive the Head Start Trauma Smart training. They’ll be doing five weeks of training over the 2015-2016 school year.
Barila had also learned about Dr. Becky Bailey’s Conscious Discipline program, part of which emphasizes that if adults hope to change the behavior of the children they teach or care for, they need to be aware of their own behavior. Or, as Bailey points out, “The biggest threat to a child’s sense of safety is an out-of-control adult. The key to safety is a conscious, mindful adult.”
As a result, she decided to emphasize the next step of CRI’s training on “first of all understanding where you are, your family of influence, and your triggers that may be hindering you.”
CRI still provides a four-hour workshop that covers the basic foundational aspects of ACEs research writ large – the epidemiology of ACEs, the neurobiology of toxic stress, the long-term biomedical and epigenetic consequences of toxic stress, and resilience research.
But this summer, for those who have completed the four-hour workshop, CRI began “the next generation of training”, says Barila: a train-the-trainers program comprising eight modules over 16 weeks. Participants attend a workshop every two weeks and are assigned homework that requires them to practice what they’ve learned.
Sixty-two people from 10 different organizations and agencies are participating. The organizations include Washington State Penitentiary, the local Child Protective Services, Children’s Home Society of Washington (a parent support group), the Health Center (at Lincoln High School and at Blue Ridge Elementary), Friends of Children of Walla Walla (a mentoring organization), Jubilee Leadership Academy (a school for troubled teens in Prescott, WA), Valley Residential Services (for developmentally disabled adults, veterans services, and family services) and Campfire (after-school programs for kids).
“We’re giving people better tools, strategies and procedures,” says Barila.
The training emphasizes how your family of origin affects how you respond to people. For organizations whose goal is to help adults and children with high ACE scores and who need services, then the training helps participants see how they may trigger children, and how they make judgments about stressed parents that are based on their own childhood experiences and not the parents’ responses to stressful situations.
“We’re giving program participants a better way to respond,” says Barila. “Providers couldn’t get past things like why a parent couldn’t be on time for their meeting, for example. This training starts to give them more actual ability to see that pathway and implement changes.”
Another reason for doing the train-the-trainer program is to move CRI into becoming “more sustainable,” says Barila. “Each agency creates its own coaching team, and integrates it within each system to take on the role of what we’ve been doing.
“We can’t keep doing all the training,” she continues. “It’s killing us. To be more sustainable, we have to build a larger cadre of trainers. They create the sustainability. That’s the biggest change from a year ago.”
The organization in Walla Walla that was the first to transform – Lincoln High School – has continued to integrate trauma-informed and resilience-building practices. Although Walla Walla Public Schools staff are not participating in the train-the-trainer program, CRI is working with three elementary schools that are on the long road to becoming trauma-informed. They’ve also done short workshops with staff from a middle school and from the other high school in town – Walla Walla High School. However, there’s no mandate from the school district for schools to become trauma-informed, probably because the interim superintendent wants to wait to implement new policy until a permanent superintendent comes on board.
The Children’s Resilience Initiative community partners still meet monthly. Many of them have started to transform their organizations into becoming trauma-informed. In an effort to capture what they’re doing and the impact of the changes, Dr. Dario Longhi, who did the analysis of the successful impact of trauma-informed practices at Lincoln High School, conducted 11 focus groups with CRI partners. He assigned them homework — to create the resilience stories that show the progress in implementing trauma strategies. He’s also doing interviews of parents, staff, clients, and children.
CRI has also been working with the ACEs Public-Private Initiative, which contracted with Mathematica Policy Research to do a community capacity survey of Walla Walla and four other communities in Washington State. The survey will measure outcomes in three areas where ACEs were introduced and/or trauma-informed and resilience-building practices were implemented – Lincoln High School and the Health Center at Lincoln, community awareness of ACEs, and a neighborhood program.
Communication tools and toolkits
As one of its sustainability goals, CRI is also redoing its web site, which “will help with the sales of our products,” says Barila. “Those teaching tools are still part of our outreach.”
Over the years, CRI has developed many tools and games for teachers as well as community groups. The products in CRI’s Resilience Store include:
- Resilience Trumps ACEs deck of cards, which includes 42 “Resilience Building Blocks” to help build resilience into children’s lives. It comes with a handbook that explains ACEs and resilience. The deck of cards is available in Spanish and English.
- Resilience magnets (for the fridge) and a resilience coloring book
- Resilience posters, bookmarks and tip sheet
- A manual for how to build a resilient community
- Resilience game
Walla Walla Timeline - Click on Year to View Highlights
First multi-disciplinary forum on the health of families and children.
Exposure to ACE Study and brain development research through Family Policy Council.
Rob Anda visits; his message is “go home and create a grassroots movement”.
Anda visits again; Barila and Brown create framework for CRI.
Start-up funding of $40,000, followed by Gates Foundation three-year, $130,000 grant. Groundwork on CRI begins.
CRI’s official launch; monthly meetings begin.
Walla Walla School District sends staff to Spokane “Hurt to Hope” conference.
Lincoln High School begins shift to trauma-informed practices.
John Medina, a developmental molecular biologist who studies how the brain organizes information, keynotes Children’s Forum; Walla Walla school board closes schools so every employee can attend.
Vincent Felitti visits, engages medical community.
Article about Lincoln High School on ACEsTooHigh goes viral; prompts major response to community initiative.
Family Policy Council closes.
National interest in Walla Walla develops, with invitations to conferences around the U.S.; James Redford begins work on documentary about Lincoln High.
CDC’s ACE Learning Lab for local businesses draws 130 participants and creates major buzz.
ACEs Public Private Initiative selects five sites in Washington State, including Walla Walla, for evaluation of ACE integration at community level.
Walla Walla City Council recognizes CRI for its work in creating a trauma-informed and resilient community.
Lincoln High School ACEs and Resilience Program — a Gates Foundation grant – reaches pregnant and parenting teens, and general student population to increase understanding of resilience and ACEs.
CRI “visioning” session for community sets goals and objectives.
Lincoln High School deploys resilience-focused survey.
Survey finds that student resilience improved; students with higher resilience scores earn higher grades, irrespective of their ACE scores. Survey supports trauma-informed/resilience-building program.