Untangling the Threads on Trauma: New NYEC and National Initiatives

A major federal appropriations bill in December labeled trauma-informed practices a “Bill-Wide Directive.” Philadelphia strives to be a trauma-informed city. Last year California’s first surgeon general advocated for screening every child for trauma. A national campaign seeks to create a “resilient, trauma-informed society.” What is the thread that connects these developments?

Communities and families have long known that supporting young people means reckoning with prior experiences and meeting them where they are. As policymakers and systems start to catch on, it’s more important than ever to clarify terms and translate into action.

A new website developed by Child Trends seeks to take steps in this direction. Locating terms like positive youth development, trauma-informed care, and restorative practices within a framework informed by the science of adolescent brain development, the site offers practitioners and policymakers a new way to connect the contexts in which young people live to interventions and outcomes.

There’s no shortage of innovative work being done in the field. Under a Workforce Innovation Fund grant, longtime NYEC member Lori Strumpf served as project director on the @LIKE Program; NYEC member California Family Life Center was a service provider on the grant. A key change made possible by the grant was involving life coaches throughout the service trajectory. Separate from the case manager role, the life coaches supported participant success by “establishing personal relationships and trust, and through building participant resiliency and self-efficacy to solve problems and work toward their individual goals.” Read more in the @LIKE Program evaluation.

To support community-based organizations as they translate this science to practice, the National Youth Employment Coalition has begun a new project supported by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. NYEC will work with several youth-serving organizations to explore greater integration of practices informed by the science of adolescent brain development into their operations. Through access to coaching, a handful of organizations will infuse practices that build executive function and trauma resilience. Executive function skills are those needed to plan, focus attention and juggle multiple tasks successfully. Partnering with intermediaries will allow us to simultaneously lift up and amplify lessons. We hope to share what we’re learning from this project during the All Youth Connecting convening June 22-23, if the pandemic allows. A new trauma focus has been added to the convening and we welcome session proposals.

In its advocacy work, NYEC is an early member of the Child Trauma and ACES Policy (CTAP) Working Group, the coalition that launched The Campaign for Trauma-Informed Policy and Practice referenced above. Individuals and organizations throughout the country can join the campaign and have the opportunity to volunteer to be local campaign liaisons and take part in future action events.

In 2018, Congress created the Interagency Task Force on Trauma-Informed Care to be chaired by SAMHSA in response to the opioid epidemic. The Task Force is intended to enhance coordination and promote best practices to support children exposed to trauma and to disseminate through relevant grant programs, and its creation was a critical step towards integrating our federal efforts to help children and families who are affected by trauma. Furthermore, several pieces of federal legislation can be enhanced to strengthen trauma protections including the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA), Every Student Succeeds Act, as well as the Children Exposed to Violence Initiative which has produced training kits for law enforcement and technical assistance for youth-serving agencies to identify and address needs of children who experience violence.

As more research and lived experiences are integrated into the trauma conversations, new areas are being explored and responded to. We encourage NYEC members and the wider community to help inform our work by joining future focus groups, proposing sessions at upcoming NYEC convenings and supporting our grant-supported work. More understanding of these topics can help strengthen the workforce by starting new conversations and adjusting current views on trauma and how it affects youth in a working environment.